Medical science has made great strides in the treatment of cancer in the last few years and while it still remains the most serious illness, survival rates are going up and it is no longer the cause for fear and despair that it was previously. The two most common forms of treatment are Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy. While the two treatments are different, the terms are often used interchangeably so it is important for those suffering from this disease and their families and loved ones to know the difference.
Radiation therapy uses high energy waves to destroy the cancer cells in a specific part of the body. This is done using special radiation equipment that sends strong doses of focused radiation to the tumour or cancer cells. The radiation causes the tumour or cancer cells to die. This treatment does result in strong strong side effects – the radiation can also affect healthy cells. However, since normal healthy cells can repair themselves, they return to normal in a short while. In most cases it is only during the interim stage while the healthy cells are recovering that the patient may suffer from these side effects. Radiation therapy may be delivered in 2 ways – External and internal.
In the case of external radiation, a special machine is used to focus and send the radiation to the cancer affected part or parts of the body. This treatment takes just a few minutes. The frequency and duration of the therapy will be decided by the cancer specialist.
Internal radiation treatment requires a controlled radioactive source to be placed inside the body, in direct contact with the tumor. This implant will deliver a controlled continuous dose of radiation to the cancer affected areas. The size of the implant, the amount of radiation it delivers and for how long it does so will depend on the nature of the cancer. The radiation will stop after a predetermined period of time, so the implants are usually left in the body as they do no damage.
Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to treat the cancer. Unlike radiation therapy, this is not a focused treatment, but a systemic one. That means that the drugs go though the whole body to fight the cancer growth and also to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body. The type, quantity and the combination of drugs to be used will be decided by the oncologist, depending on the severity of the condition. The drugs can be delivered, orally, by injection/drip or by direct application on the skin. Because the administering of the drugs does not require any surgery, the treatment may, if the patient’s condition permits, be done as an outpatient procedure and no hospital stay may be required.
It must be noted that like radiation therapy, chemotherapy can also have a range of side effects which will require careful monitoring by the doctors.
Radiation And Chemotherapy Together
Radiation and chemotherapy may be used together to treat some forms of cancer. The decision on this will be taken by the oncologist. Whatever the type of or combination of treatments prescribed, patients must remember that cancer is no longer incurable. Of course, the best treatment and best results will come from being treated at a hospital that specializes in cancer therapies.