Why fear from Radiation Therapy? Know it Myths and Facts
Dr. Kanika Sharma, Senior Consultant, Radiation oncology at Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital.
In the era of targeted therapies and advanced technologies it is unfortunate that few people miss out on their chances of cure from cancer due to their fears regarding the side effects of treatment. Especially when it comes to radiation therapy,there are lot of myths regarding its ill effects. Some of these notions were true till a decade back. But the radiation oncologist of today is equipped with an armementerium of technology and advances curtailing the side effects and improving quality of life. The commonest myths include
Myth 1- Radiation Therapy (RT) is painful.
Fact 1– It is actually a painless treatment, so a person who is undergoing radiation therapy does not feel pain, warmth or heat when the treatment is given. Though during the course of treatment one may experience side effects are skin redness, or ulcers in throat/mouth depending on the site as a consequence of RT (which might lead to pain) which is taken care of by your treating doctor through medications and various other measures. The intensity of these can be reduced by modern radiation technique leading to skin sparing.
Myth 2- Radiation can be passed from person to person
Fact 2– Any person receiving external beam radiation or brachytherapy (Internal Radiation) does not become radioactive any time during treatment. There is no lingering radiation and its absorbed by body tissues. It’s absolutely safe to stay with family and friends while you are on RT.
Myth 3- RT causes hair loss from head/scalp.
Fact 3– Radiation would cause local area hair loss which is temporary and reversible. Only patients receiving RT to head region would lose their scalp hair in a patchy manner and now a days with newer techniques like “Scalp Sparing IMRT” it is now possible to prevent this. Also, radiation received on any other body part, will not cause scalp hair loss. Male patients with RT might lose facial/beard/moustache hair which anyhow is recommended to be shaved/trimmed before treatment to avoid side effects on skin.
Myth 4- RT causes nausea/vomiting.
Fact 4– Radiation per se does not cause nausea / vomiting except whendirected to specific sites like abdominal area or head region. The nausea can be taken care of by simple medications.
Myth 5- Radiation causes memory loss
Fact 5- Unless the cranial area is being irradiated. Radiation treatment would not make you forgetful. Also with the advent of new techniques in radiation, Hippocampal sparing ( thecentre responsible for memory in our brain) is now an option,to prevent memory loss in patients receiving radiation for brain tumors.
Myth 6- Is Radiation therapy safe?
Fact 6– Radiation therapy has been used successfully to treat patients for more than 100 years. There are stochastic and deterministic effects of radiation but the risk ‘radiation induced secondary cancers’ one in 1000 to 10,000. Newer techniques like volumetric arc therapy(VMAT)have drastically reduced target volumes of area to be treated which reduces the doses of radiation to normal adjacent tissues around the tumor. Radiation therapy is vital for local control and prevent disease recurrence.
Myth 7- Radiation leads to skin burns
Fact 7- RT does not cause skin burning, but it does lead to redness, darkening, and peeling of skin in the local area being treated. The magnitude of these side effects varies from person to person and also depends on area being treated. These effects are usually temporary and gradually improve after RT completion.
Myth 8- Radiation affects the fertility
Fact 8- Modern radiotherapy is localized, and only affects the part being treated. It usually ensured that the radiation dose received by Gonads is minimal .If there is an anticipated high dose of radiation in vicinity of Gonads then Ova/sperm preservation is usually advised beforehand .At times ovaries are surgically shifted to an area where radiation will not be delivered.
So all the modern advances are aiming for a better control of cancer and at the same time also reducing the most feared side effects. A holistic approach is being followed where attention is being paid to the cosmetic and functional outcomes also. To ensure a good outcome it is essential to get timely treatment in a well equipped oncology centre. Specially with centres with all facilities under one roof.