Use of radiation therapy for the treatment of lung cancer has gained wide prominence in the medical field of late. But is it really as beneficial as it is claimed to be?
One of the most popular methods of cancer treatment, radiation therapy is a process wherein high-energy ionizing radiation is used to kill cancerous cells, or curb their growth in the body. Also known as radiotherapy, it is thought to be an effective method of treatment, especially because it is known to curb the growth of cancerous cells which are known to multiply at an abnormally fast rate. It can cure both small cell and non-small cell lung cancer.
Radiation Therapy for the Treatment of Lung Cancer
When the body is subjected to radiation therapy, high-energy beams focus on the area of the lungs wherein the tumor is located. This radiation damages the DNA of the cancerous cells and destroys them, thus affecting their ability to reproduce. This is important, as these cells are known to reproduce rapidly and spread to the other areas of the body.
Radiation is classified into two groups:
- External beam therapy (EBT), wherein the external machine delivers high doses of radiation.
- Internal radiation therapy, wherein a thin plastic tube is inserted into the body to pass radioactive material to the affected area.
Normally, the person suffering from lung cancer is subjected to radiation therapy on a daily basis for a period of six weeks. Each of these sessions lasts for a few minutes and, more importantly, are devoid of pain.
In this case, the target is to curb the growth of cancerous cells and pain associated with the ailment, instead of curing the ailment itself. It is most often used for people with terminal cancer, in order to relieve them of pain caused by the illness. Palliative radiation is referred in cases wherein the malignant cells reach the brain or spinal cord and cause more harm than the side effects of radiation itself.
One of the latest inclusion in the list, stereotactic radiation or stereotactic radio-surgery delivers high doses of radiation directly to the lung tumor. It is considered a good alternative to lung cancer surgery owing to its high success rate. It is mostly recommended to elderly people, or people with other underlying ailments.
Proton radiation has the capacity to deliver high doses of radiation to a particular area, wherein the tumor is located. The biggest advantage that this form of radiation has over its X-ray counterpart, is that it delivers high dose without causing much harm to the tissues in the surrounding. This also means that the person treated by this form is exposed to less number of side effects than the other forms of radiation.
Radiation Therapy Side Effects
Radiation therapy also has some significant side effects that you cannot afford to ignore. Most of these side effects surface when it is used as a component of intensive treatment and/or used in combination with chemotherapy. It can cause esophagitis (inflammation in the esophagus), pneumonitis, etc. The patient may also experience infection of radiations. Other side effects include radiation poisoning, hair loss, memory loss, skin problems, headache, nausea, vomiting, etc. Skin problems associated with radiations include erythema, pruritus, shrinking, etc. The patient may also complain of loss of appetite, nausea, etc.
Development in the field of medicine has brought about some positive changes. The targeted approach that most of the radiation therapies use today, induces minimal damage to the cells surrounding the tumor. Moreover, healthy cells are quick to repair the damage and thus, the risk is worth taking.