It has been noticed that at times, one of the trickiest sides of contending with cancer is to be able to properly deal with the side effects caused during the treatment of the disease. In fact, there are two main types of cancer therapy in the contemporary conventional use - chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Both these types of cancer treatments present distinctive challenges.
Radiation therapy has been used in medicine for treating various forms of cancers for over a century now and its origins dates back to 1895 when Wilhelm Röntgen discovered the x-rays. Starting from 1896, Chicago-based physician Emil Grubbe was perhaps the first doctor to make use of x-rays for treating cancer.
Since the early 1900s, radiation therapy started becoming popular and to a great extent, the growth of radiation therapy is attributed the Marie Curie Sklodowska (1867-1934), who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the radioactive elements radium and polonium in 1898. These discoveries ushered in a new epoch in the field of medical therapy as well as research. Until the middle of the 1900s, doctors extensively used radium in a variety of forms, and, subsequently, use of cobalt and cesium units became more common. Since the late 1940s, doctors used medical linear accelerators as the basis for radiation.
When Godfrey Hounsfield invented the computed tomography or CT in 1971, it was possible to make three-dimensional planning and it resulted in a shift from the two-dimensional to three-dimensional radiation deliverance. Planning based on CT enabled the doctors to decide on the dose distribution more perfectly making use of the patient's anatomy's tomographic images. Since then, megavoltage linear accelerators have greatly substituted for cobalt and orthovoltage units. In effect, megavoltage linear accelerators have been found to be helpful for their incisive energies as well as because they do not have any physical radiation source.
The introduction of latest imaging equipments and expertise, which included arrival of the magnetic resonance imaging way back in 1970s, and later, in the 1980s, the positron emission tomography (PET), has helped the advancement of radiation therapy from the initial three-dimensional conformal to more superior intensity-modulated radiation therapy, also called IMRT, as well as the image-guided radiation therapy or IGRT tomography. Such developments enabled the radiation oncologists to distinguish as well as target the tumours better. As a result, the treatment results were better and it led to preservation of more organs and lesser side effects owing to radiation therapy.
Radiation is used in lesser doses for purposes like taking x-rays, to capture images of things inside the body.
Using radiation therapy for cancer requires the use of elevated doses of radiation with a view to obliterate the carcinogenic cells. Radiation therapy acts by repeatedly ravaging the cancer cells. In this case, the damaged cancer cells do not get the time to repair themselves in the period between daily treatments and they disappear ultimately. However, despite the use of radiation, the normal cells can repair as well as replace themselves between the everyday radiation therapy sessions.
While the carcinogenic and normal cells respond dissimilarly to radiation, it is very difficult to obliterate the cancer cells and leaving the normal cells unharmed. The objective of radiation therapy is to provide sufficient radiation to eliminate the cancer cells in the body. However, only so much radiation should be given that it allows the normal cells to recuperate even after they are affected by radiation.
Before you undergo radiation therapy, your radiation oncologist will first prepare a treatment plan for you depending on a number of factors, including the type of cancer you are suffering from; the location of the tumour in your body and its size; the phase of progression of the cancer and its grade; the probable side effects of radiation therapy; and your overall health.
Similar to surgery, radiation therapy is also a localized treatment and it only has an effect on the cancer cells in the area where the radiation is given. Radiation can be given from various sources - it can be given from a machine (in the case of external radiation) and also from an implant. In the second case a small container enclosing radioactive material is inserted directly into or close to the tumour and this is called internal radiation. In case of some patients, both these types of radiation therapy are applied.
Generally, external radiation therapy is given on an outpatient basis in a clinic or a hospital for five consecutive days every week for several weeks altogether. The important thing about external radiation therapy is that the patients do not become radioactive either during or after the treatment.
In the case of internal radiation therapy, the patient has to stay in the hospital for some days. The implant of the container enclosing radioactive substance may either be temporary or permanent. Since the intensity of radiation is the maximum during the patient's stay in the hospital, it may not be possible to allow other people to visit the patients or visitors may be allowed only for a brief period. When the implant is taken away, the patient's body does not have any radioactivity. In the case of a permanent implant, the amount of radiation is brought down to safe levels prior to the patient leaving the hospital.
When a patient is given radiation, it works to damage the cancer cells' DNA. The damage to the DNA is done by one of the two kinds of energy - photon or a charged particle. This damage is done either directly or indirectly by means of ionizing the atoms that comprise the DNA chain. Indirect ionization happens owing to the ionization of water, resulting in the formation of free radicals, particularly hydroxyl radicals. Subsequently, these hydroxyl radicals damage the DNA of the cancer cells.
It may be noted that radiation therapy is not successful by itself, but it forms a part of the established medication's typical arsenal for combating cancer. Radiation therapy eliminates the cancer cells by means of encouraging the creation of the toxic free radicals - derivatives of the body's use of oxygen. It has been found that radiation therapy largely affects the cells, especially the cancer cells, which are reproducing (dividing and multiplying) at a rapid pace. The concept behind utilizing radiation therapy is that a much larger number of cancer cells compared to the healthy cells are destroyed due to radiation.
Radiation is helpful in getting rid of several forms of cancer, including those of the tongue, oral cavity, lips and nasal cavity; a number of forms of melanoma; small-cell lung cancer; early forms of Hodgkin's disease; as well as a number of types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. However, radiation therapy is generally not effective in the treatment of some forms of cancer, including breast cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer (except for small-cell lung cancer), prostate cancer, endometrial cancer, or the sarcomas of the connective tissues.
While using radiation therapy, physicians always endeavour to accurately aim at the cancer. However, despite such care, it is practically impossible to leave the healthy cells in the adjoining regions unaffected. Without doubt, radiation therapy results in some side effects and these may include headaches, vomiting and nausea, exhaustion, absence of appetite, dry mouth and eyes, hair loss and diarrhea. The side effects caused by radiation therapy vary from one patient to another, subject to the location in the body which is involved and the amount of radiation received. The adverse affects of receiving radiation therapy are likely to be permanent or provisional, conditional on the dose of the medication and the body part receiving the radiation.
Unless your doctor advises you otherwise, you ought to begin treatment using herbs soon after you have taken the last radiation, as it would help in preventing any counteraction of the effects of radiation therapy.
Several herbs and herbal products are effective in hastening recovery after radiation therapy. However, you should consult your physician prior to using herbs in order to prevent any interaction of the herbal products with the impacts of radiation.
Chaparral extract is one herbal product, which assists in protecting you against the detrimental effects of radiation therapy. This herb ought to be taken according to the usage instructions on the product label. However, it is not advisable to take chaparral extract regularly and you should also not take it every day for more than a week. Using this herb for a prolonged period may actually prove to be detrimental for the health of the liver.
A tincture prepared from the herb Panax ginseng may also be taken according to the directions on the product label. This herbal product helps to shield the digestive tract from the harms caused by radiation therapy.
In addition, taking extracts of green tea catechin in dosage of 240 mg thrice every day is helpful in defending your body from the adverse affects caused by taking gamma radiation, counting thyroid cancer.
Using mulberry mistletoe or Mistletoe Loranthus helps in lowering the risks of having low counts of white blood cells (leucocytes) and also extends the survival period of the patient. However, you need to ensure that you are taking this herbal product under the supervision of a qualified practitioner of herbal medicine. Take capsules of pollen micronized in dosage of 3,000 mg to 4,000 mg every day, as it protects the liver from depleting levels of antioxidants.
The tablet form of polysaccharide kureha (PSK) taken in dosage of 6,000 mg every day helps in alleviating pain, exhaustion, poor appetite, debility as well as parched mouth and throats. You may also take the powdered form of the herb slippery elm in measures of one to two teaspoon added to one cup (250 ml) of cold water as many times as you may want. This herbal product also helps in alleviating sore throat and dry mouth and you may use it safely even while undergoing radiation therapy.
Additionally, you may also use tablets made from the herb snow fungus, also known as yin mi pian. Taking 6 to 12 tablets prior to undergoing radiation therapy for uterine cancer or breast cancer helps to augment the body's resistance to the adverse effects of radiation.
Prior to undergoing a radiation therapy for treating any form of cancer, you should ask your doctor for a forthright opinion regarding the possible benefits as well as risks involved with radiation therapy for the form of cancer you are suffering from.
In addition, drink lots of water that has been steam-distilled and consume buckwheat, which possesses high amounts of rutin - a bioflavonoid that defends against the adverse effects of radiation. One of the common affects experienced by patients undergoing radiation therapy is lactose intolerance that results in flatulence, bloating and heartburn following consumption of any type of dairy product. Therefore, it is advisable that you keep away from all dairy products while undergoing radiation therapy or take any lactase supplement, for instance, Lactaid. Taking this supplement may perhaps help in avoiding lactose intolerance.
In case you are planning to take dietary supplements while undergoing radiation therapy, it is essential that you choose the supplement following a careful thought. As radiation therapy results in the depletion of the vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene stored by the body, it would appear to be normal to take these supplements while taking radiation therapy.
Nevertheless, there is substantial proof of the fact that the more the body stores such vitamins (as well as the trace mineral selenium), which scavenge the free radicals, during radiation treatment, the larger the tumour would be following the treatment. Conversely, there is sufficient evidence from laboratory tests that suggest that taking melatonin supplements defends the entire body from the adverse impacts of radiation, while using vitamin A supplements may perhaps help in putting off any damage to the lungs by radiation. However, it is advisable that you should never take any vitamin or mineral supplement while undergoing radiation therapy without consulting your oncologist.
At the same time, people who would be undergoing radiation therapy ought to know that they may experience lymphedema, a condition wherein the body tissues are distended, after the radiation treatment.