However, because healthy cells can repair damage more effectively, the cancerous cells in an area sustain more damage from the treatment. In order to help the healthy cells recover from the radiotherapy, after five days of treatment a patient will often have two days without the treatment.
Radiotherapy may be used as a curative treatment, by which the aim is to completely cure the cancer and destroy the tumor. When used as a curative treatment, the treatment may go on for an extended period of time, depending on the size and location of the tumor. As a palliative treatment, the aim is to relieve symptoms of the cancer. This is not usually done for an extended period of time, but rather done in one day or several days. As a neoadjuvant treatment, the aim of radiotherapy is to shrink a tumor, or help prevent it from spreading, in conjunction with surgery. As an adjuvant treatment, it is used after surgery to prevent trace amounts of the tumor not removed by surgery from developing. When chemotherapy is used as total body irridation, it is used to destroy bone marrow cells. After these are destroyed, new marrow cells are implanted, either from the patient's own body or from a donor.
While external radiotherapy is normally performed as an outpatient procedure, internal radiotherapy is more often an inpatient procedure. Implants may be metal tubes, seeds, or wires, which are placed internally near the site of the tumor. Tubes and wires will be removed after a period of time, however some seeds are not removed because they stop being radioactive after a short period of time. Internal radiotherapy may also be done through liquids, such as a drink, injection into the vein, or injection directly into the tumor. Often a patient must be hospitalized for days after internal liquid radiotherapy due to the dangers of radioactivity which will escape the body, but some types of treatments are low-dose enough that it is safe to go home immediately. The danger of radioactivity to non-patients is a concern, so patients and their belongings are tested for radioactivity before leaving the hospital after a treatment. After some radiotherapy treatments, even when the patient is allowed to leave the hospital, he or she may be advised to stay away from children and the elderly due to residual radioactivity.
Radiotherapy has many of the same side effects as other cancer treatments. These side effects include:
The skin looking darker, as if tanned
The skin feeling leathery or different
Hair being a different color or texture after growing back
Permanent hair loss in some areas
Broken blood vessel marks
Loss of stretchiness in the skin or other tissues
Fluid blockage to the arms or legs
The loss of elasticity in the tissues is called radiotherapy fibrosis. This fibrosis can in and of itself cause a variety of problems throughout the body, depending on the site of the cancer and treatment. For example, if treatment is in the bladder or in the area of the bladder, the bladder may hold less urine, and the patient may need to use the restroom more often. In the case of breast cancer treatment, the breast may feel harder to the touch and may not appear identical to the other breast due to the changes from treatment. In the case of vaginal cancer, or cancer in that vicinity, there may be a loss of stretchiness of the vagina. It may also become narrower and interfere with sexual activity. Swelling in the arm or leg after shoulder or groin surgery is normal, though fluid buildup must be monitored in case of a serious problem. Lung or chest treatment can lead to problems such as difficulty breathing, as the lungs are prone to losing elasticity. Throat treatment may cause problems with the esophagus, such as difficulty swallowing. A complication of fibrosis is that it can take months or even years for the symptoms to occur. This means that problems may show up unexpectedly and cause lasting pain and discomfort, after a patient has decided he or she is finally free of the pain of cancer. The lungs in particular are susceptible to problems with fibrosis, and this can seriously complicate the breathing problems that are inevitable after having lung cancer. Pneumonitis may also develop over months or years following lung treatment, which is a serious lung condition appearing in about ten percent of patients. This is a progressive disease that includes shortness of breath and coughing. (Cancerhelp)
There are a number of ways that doctors attempt to minimize the occurrences of side effects. First, the lowest possible effective dose of radiation will be used in treatment. However, the risks and benefits must be weighed because the lower the dose of radiation, the less likely the cancer will be cured. However, higher doses of radiation inevitably have a higher risk of side effects and damage to healthy cells. Doctors also calculate the safest amount of radiation for each particular part of the body, because some areas of the body are more sensitive to the effects. Additionally, doctors will plan a treatment that avoids overlapping the areas that will be contacted by treatments from different angles, and the best angles to treat a cancer are carefully considered. For example, breast cancer will be treated from an angle, rather than from the front, so that less radiation directly hits the lungs. Conformal radiotherapy, or shaped radiotherapy beams that are specialized to hit the cancer most directly. However, the severity of the reaction of healthy cells to the treatment is not something which can be tested for each individual, and once again it is important to not be ineffective against the cancer in an attempt to be safe from side effects. (Cancerhelp)
Hormone therapy is another treatment option, which uses sex hormones or drugs that stop sex hormones. This is only used for certain types of caner which are hormone-sensitive or hormone-dependent. This includes breast cancer, prostate cancer, and uterine cancer. Additionally, they may be used for kidney cancer and melanoma. For the treatment of breast cancer and prostate cancer, sex hormones are blocked because the cancer is dependent on these hormones. The cancer is stimulated by estrogen in the case of breast cancer, and testosterone in the case of prostate cancer. Taking hormones, however, can shrink other cancers, and this treatment method is often used when cancer is very advanced, or to help prevent cancer from recurring. Progesterone, for example, may treat uterine cancer or kidney cancer. (Cancerhelp)
Gene therapy, also known as molecular therapy, is used to treat cancer in a number of ways. Gene therapy can block abnormal genes in cancer cells, repair or replace abnormal genes in cancer cells, make genes in cancer cells abnormal so they are sensitive to anti-cancer treatments, or put viruses in cancer cells. This may make cancer cells return to being non-cancerous, or gene therapy may cause cancer cells to die. Gene therapy may also be used to block or destroy the enzyme that allows cancer cells to be immortal, which would allow them to age and die like a normal cell. (Cancerhelp)
Cancer is so difficult to combat because just one cancerous cell can spread and grow. Treatments may effectively remove all but one single cancer cell, but the disease will come back from that one cell. Before or during surgery, a single cell may break away from the primary cancer and avoid removal. Chemotherapy only attacks cells which are dividing, and inevitably not all cancer cells will be dividing at the same time. Combining chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and performing a series of treatments rather than a single one, can help to prevent cancer cells from escaping this treatment. However, most cancer treatments do not attempt to kill every single cancer cell because of the risk of terrible side effects from the treatment. Instead, doctors hope that the body's immune system will kill any straggling cells. (Cancerhelp)
Certainly, cancer treatments are not perfected. This is part of the reason that it is important for patients to consider alternative treatments. One approach to combating cancer that is considered to be an "alternative treatment" by some people is to identify the causes of cancer and attempt to prevent the development of cancer by avoiding causal factors.
Sunlight, for example, may cause cancer. Damage to the ozone layer or other environmental factors, more ultraviolet radiation is present in the sunlight to which people are exposed. Lifestyle changes also have an effect on how the sunlight affects skin, because people will spend too long in the sun at once to make up for all of the time indoors. Sunlight has been shown to be a contributing factor in the development of skin and other cancers. (Sodhi) Electromagnetic field exposure, which emanates from electrical currents in home wiring, overheated lights, televisions, microwaves, and other electric appliances. Electromagnetic fields are everywhere, and according to alternative views, they…