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What is Radiotherapy, and its use in treatment for cancers?

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Radiotherpay treatment for cancers and tumours

Radiotherapy, also known as radiation therapy, is a medical treatment that uses high-energy radiation to target and destroy cancer cells or to shrink tumors. It is one of the primary treatment modalities for cancer and is often used in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy, depending on the type and stage of cancer.

The main goals of radiotherapy are:

  • Tumor Shrinkage: Radiotherapy can be used to shrink tumors before surgery, making them easier to remove.
  • Cancer Cell Destruction: Radiation damages the DNA inside cancer cells, preventing them from growing and dividing. Eventually, these damaged cells die off.
  • Local Control: Radiotherapy is particularly useful for treating cancer that is confined to a specific area of the body. It can target the tumor with precision, minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

There are different types of radiation therapy, including:

  • External Beam Radiotherapy (EBRT): This is the most common form of radiotherapy, where a machine outside the body delivers targeted radiation beams to the tumor. The patient typically undergoes daily treatments over a course of several weeks.
  • Internal Radiotherapy (Brachytherapy): In this approach, radioactive sources are placed directly inside or very close to the tumor. It's often used for cancers of the cervix, prostate, and other organs.
  • Systemic Radiotherapy: Radioactive substances, such as radioactive iodine, are given orally or intravenously to target cancer cells throughout the body. This is mainly used for thyroid cancer and some forms of bone cancer.

External beam radiotherapy (EBRT)

External beam radiotherapy is a widely used cancer treatment modality that delivers high-energy X-ray or proton beams from a machine outside the patient's body to target and destroy cancer cells. This non-invasive technique is based on the principle of ionizing radiation damaging the DNA of cancer cells, preventing them from dividing and growing. Precise planning and delivery are critical to spare healthy tissues while irradiating tumors effectively. Patients typically receive multiple daily or weekly sessions over several weeks. External beam radiotherapy is used as a primary treatment, in combination with surgery or chemotherapy, or for palliative care to alleviate cancer-related symptoms. Its success relies on advanced technology, skilled medical professionals, and personalized treatment plans to maximize therapeutic outcomes and minimize side effects.

Internal Radiotherapy (Brachytherapy)

Internal radiotherapy, also known as brachytherapy, is a targeted cancer treatment that involves placing radioactive sources directly within or near the tumor site. Unlike external beam radiation, brachytherapy delivers a precise dose of radiation internally, minimizing exposure to healthy surrounding tissues. This technique is employed for various cancers, including prostate, cervical, and breast cancer. There are two main types: intracavitary and interstitial. Intracavitary brachytherapy involves positioning radiation sources inside body cavities, while interstitial brachytherapy places them directly into the tumor tissue. Brachytherapy is often used in conjunction with external radiation or as a sole treatment, depending on the cancer type and stage. Its advantages include shorter treatment durations, reduced side effects, and enhanced dose conformity, making it a valuable option in the fight against cancer.

Systemic Radiotherapy

Systemic radiotherapy, also referred to as radiopharmaceutical therapy, is a medical treatment that uses radioactive substances to target and treat cancer cells throughout the body. This therapy involves the administration of radioactive drugs, usually intravenously, which circulate through the bloodstream and selectively accumulate in cancerous tissues. Once concentrated in the tumor, the radiation emitted from these substances damages cancer cells, inhibiting their growth or causing cell death. Systemic radiotherapy is particularly effective for cancers that have spread to multiple locations or are challenging to reach with surgery or external radiation. It can help manage symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve the quality of life for cancer patients while minimizing damage to healthy tissues.

The choice of radiotherapy type and duration depends on factors like the type of cancer, its location, size, and stage, as well as the patient's overall health and medical history. Radiation therapy can cause side effects, which can vary depending on the area being treated, but advancements in technology have helped reduce these side effects and improve the precision of treatment.

Radiotherapy is typically administered by a team of healthcare professionals, including radiation oncologists, medical physicists, and radiation therapists, who work together to plan and deliver the treatment while minimizing harm to healthy tissues.

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