Radiation therapy for cancer is not an experience that anyone asks for.
However, knowing that the technology has advanced to target the tumors more accurately, spare healthy tissue and reduce side effects may help patients feel more optimism.
Most radiation is done with external radiation, which is delivered from outside the body with x-rays or electrons with a machine called a linear accelerator.
The technology keeps improving. From the early 1990s, when CT scans first allowed oncologists to treat tumors in 3-D to current techniques such as intensity modulated radiation therapy or IMRT, which shapes the beams more precisely and sends stronger radiation doses to some parts of the body and weaker doses to others.
Continued improvements allow doctors to more accurately target common cancers better than before. That accuracy allows people to be more comfortable that the cancer is receiving treatment rather than the normal tissue and in many cases can also lessen side effects.
Other improvements include high-dose ultraprecise types of radiation such as stereotactic radiation used for brain metastasis where accuracy within a millimeter is necessary. It is improving cure rates for inoperable early-state lung cancer and other uses are increasing.
As the body’s normal tissues work to recover, repair and regenerate after each daily treatment, fatigue is almost inevitable. Maintaining healthy nutrition and not losing significant weight during treatment during treatment are among the most important things patients can do to recover and heal.
Radiation can also lead to mouth sores, stomatitis, which makes it harder to eat. Radiation also often leads to skin reactions similar to sunburn. It is important to keep skin clean and moisturized to help prevent dryness, cracking and pealing. Hair loss can also happen temporarily which tends to upset some patients.