What is Radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is a painless cancer treatment using high-energy particles or waves such as x-rays, gamma-rays, electron beams or protons to kill or shrink cancer cells. It can have a targeted, powerful effect on tumours that are confined to a specific area.

Radiotherapy is delivered by:

  • A machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy) come from a radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (Brachytherapy radiotherapy).
  • Systemic radiotherapy uses a radioactive substance which travels in the blood to kill cancer cells.

Radiotherapy can be used:

  • To cure or shrink early-stage cancer (curative radiotherapy).
  • To stop cancer from recurring or treat symptoms caused by advanced cancer (palliative radiotherapy).
  • To help other treatments to be more effective as it can be combined with chemotherapy (chemoradiation) or used before surgery (neo-adjuvant radiotherapy) as synergistic treatment.
  • To help treat symptoms in cancers that have spread too widely or advanced so far that they cannot be fully cured (palliative radiotherapy) – it helps to reduce tumour size and the pain caused by tumours.

Oncologist’s prescription on radiotherapy treatment depends on factors such as:

  • Type and size of cancer
  • Location of cancer
  • The general health of patients, etc.
  • Types of radiotherapy

Types of radiotherapy

The common types of radiotherapy are:

  • Internal radiation therapy, in which a radioactive substance is placed in or close to the cancerous tissue as a temporary or permanent implant.
  • External beam radiation therapy, in which the beam of radiation is focused onto the treatment area by an external machine

Halcyon Radiotherapy System at Beacon Hospital enables:

  • Fast and precise X-ray dose delivered to each tumour with high accuracy over a minimum number of treatment sessions
  • Reduces unwanted radiation dose, thus, minimising side effects
  • The Halcyon technology’s beam-on time could be as fast as 1-minute plus. Its gantry rotates 4 times faster than a standard linear accelerator and its multi-leaf collimator (MLC) can move twice faster than traditional MLCs. All of these features help in improving the time it takes to treat the patients.

Side effects of radiation therapy

The side effects of radiotherapy depend on the location of the treated area, the dosage of radiation, duration of treatment, patient’s general medical conditions and other treatments given at the same time.

Side effects are divided by:

  • Early (acute)
  • Late (chronic) side effects
  • Predictable
  • Expected
Acute side effects are caused by damage to the rapidly dividing normal cells at the area being treated. These include:

  • Skin irritation
  • Hair loss
  • Urinary problems
  • Mouth and throat ulcers
  • Damage to the salivary gland
Chronic side effects occur months to years after treatment and are often localized to the treatment site, examples of chronic side effects are:

  • Fibrosis (scarring of tissues)
  • Cognitive decline
  • Infertility
  • Damage to the bowel (radiation enteropathy)
  • Secondary cancer

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