For cancer patients, choosing the best treatment option is extremely important.  Typically, patients end up choosing between radiation therapy and homeopathic treatment. Many people are hesitant to choose radiation therapy because of the potential dangers radiation exposure pose. In this article, we will give a detailed explanation of how radiation therapy works, types of radiation therapy options, and how it impacts cancer.  

How Does Radiation Therapy Work? 

All radiation therapies do essentially the same thing. They damage the DNA within the cancer cells, rendering them unable to replicate, which halts the growth of the tumor where it is then whisked away by natural body processes. The radiation is given in a series of sessions, each time shrinking the size of the tumor until it disappears entirely.

The type of radiation therapy a patient is given is highly dependent on the stage and location of the cancer cells. Other factors include proximity to other organs and tissues, the general health of the patient, and whether the patient will have other areas treated with radiation therapy as well.

Radiation therapy can take some time because radiation doesn’t just damage the cancerous cells, it damages normal cells as well. A radiation oncologist or radiologist is very methodical in choosing the exact type and path of the radiation to minimize collateral damage inflicted to other tissues and organs. 

Types of Radiation Therapy

There are two typical methods of radiation treatment: outside the body (external-beam radiation) and inside the body (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). 

External-beam radiation focuses radioactive particles onto the cancerous area. Radiation oncologists determine the type of particle used based on the location and distance from the skin. A deeper location will require smaller, more radioactive particles in order to pass through that many layers of tissue.

Internal radiation therapy, places a “pellet” or radioactive substance in or near the cancerous cells, giving off radiation over time. The pellet can be a low-dose-rate, which is left in the body and gives off continuous low-dose radiation for a small period of time, or a high-dose-rate, which gives off high rates of radiation and is only left in the body for the duration of each session.

Radiation and Cancer 

Now that you understand the radiation therapy process better, let’s answer the main question:

Does radiation therapy make cancer worse?  

The short answer: it can. While widely considered one of the most effective cancer treatments, it’s not without its risks. For example, radiation therapy sometimes actually can make cancer worse in two different ways. First off, the radiation being used for treatment might accidentally cause new mutations in living tissue, causing a second primary cancer later in life.

Radiation treatment can also sometimes cause the current tumor to become more malignant. A tumor is comprised of a large variety of cancerous cells with different functions. One of the most crucial types, cancer stem cells (CSCs), are highly resistant to the traditional radiation therapy that is given to most patients. Of those that do get targeted, the fraction that survives gains an immunity to the treatment, making them stronger and more likely to replicate.

So Should I Even Bother With Radiation Therapy?

Fortunately, advances in medicine and technology are minimizing the risks involved with radiation therapy. Radiation therapy isn’t perfect, but it’s the best option for cancer patients. Thanks to the treatment, more battles against cancer are ending in victory.  If you are looking for quality radiation therapy in Manhattan, schedule an appointment with one of our radiologists today.