Radiotherapy 2018-02-07T12:02:24+03:00


What is radiotherapy

Radiotherapy means the use of radiation, usually X-rays, to treat illness.

X-rays were discovered in 1895 and since then radiation has been used in medicine for diagnosis and investigation (X-rays) and treatment (radiotherapy). Doctors have a lot of experience with using radiotherapy in medicine.

About 4 out of 10 people with cancer (40%) have radiotherapy as part of their treatment. Radiotherapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells

Radiotherapy is prescribed either:

  • From outside the body as external radiotherapy, using X-rays from linear accelerator machines, electrons, and more rarely other particles such as protons;
  • From within the body as internal radiotherapy, by drinking a liquid that is taken up by cancer cells or by putting radioactive material in, or close to, the tumor.

Radiotherapy treatment that aims to cure cancer is called radical radiotherapy or curative radiotherapy.

The length of the course of treatment depends on the size and type of the cancer and where it is in the body.

The radiotherapy is often combined with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or biological therapy.

Radiotherapy destroys the cancer cells in the treated area by damaging the DNA within these cells.

Although normal cells are also affected by radiation, they are better at repairing themselves than the cancer cells.

The radiotherapy team plans each person’s radiotherapy individually. The treatment aims to give a high dose to the cancer but as low a dose as possible to the surrounding healthy cells. The healthy cells can then recover. This aims to give the highest chance of curing or shrinking the cancer while reducing the risk of side effects.

Some people have radiotherapy to relieve symptoms, for example to reduce pain. This is called palliative treatment.

Before and after surgery

Radiotherapy is sometimes given before surgery to shrink a tumor and so make it safer and easier to remove. It is then called neoadjuvant treatment or preoperative radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy after surgery aims to kill any cancer cells that remain in the area after the operation. It aims to lower the risk of the cancer coming back.

It is often used for breast cancer, cancer of the back passage (rectal cancer), and cancers in the head and neck area. It is called adjuvant treatment or postoperative radiotherapy.

 Total body irradiation (TBI)

Total body irradiation (TBI) is a type of radiotherapy sometimes given to people having a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant, for example for some types of leukaemia or lymphoma.

Radiation works on the whole body combined with chemotherapy. The treatment destroys the bone marrow cells.

The new bone marrow or stem cells given into thebloodstream. The bone marrow or stem cells are either  own or from someone else (a donor).

Combining radiotherapy with cancer drugs

Chemotherapy can be given before, during or after a course of radiotherapy. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy given together is called chemoradiotherapy or chemoradiation.

Biological therapies can also be combined with radiotherapy to treat some types of cancer.

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