What is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation Oncology is a specialised field of medicine that is primarily devoted to the treatment of cancer, although it can be helpful in some non-cancerous conditions.

Radiation Therapy treatment uses high energy radiation or x-rays to destroy cancer cells. Radiation treatment only affects the part of the body where the radiation beams are aimed. It can be used as a curative form of treatment or to help control the symptoms caused by your cancer.

Radiation treatment may be given alone or used either before or after surgery or combined with chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy. Different forms of treatment are used with different types of cancer.

Radiation has been used successfully to treat patients for more than 100 years.  In that time, many advances have been made to ensure that Radiation Therapy treatment is safe and effective.

How does Radiation Therapy Kill Cancer? 

Cancer is an the uncontrolled growth of any cells within the body which may invade nearby or more distant parts of the body. Cancer cells replace normal tissue and use up the nutrients and physical space required by healthy cells forming a mass known as a tumour.

The process by which radiation kills cancer cells is very complex but in simple terms: the radiation damages the cells in a way that results in them no longer being able to grow / function properly. The damage caused cannot be repaired and causes the cell to die.

Healthy cells may also be affected but they have a better ability to repair the damage caused and so survive the radiation treatment. It is also important to know that Radiation treatment is carefully planned and accurately given to ensure that normal healthy tissues are avoided as much as possible.

In some circumstances Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy are given as a combined treatment to make them more effective. 

How is Radiation Therapy Treatment given? 

External Beam Radiation treatment is delivered by a Linear Accelerator which uses electricity to generate different forms of high energy radiation.

The machines are large and make a buzzing sound when they are switched on and although sometimes they get a little close they shouldn't touch you and do not cause any discomfort.

The Linacs are also equipped to take high-quality x-rays pictures which are used to confirm that you are in exactly the right position before we treat you.

What is Brachytherapy? 

Brachytherapy is a special form of radiation treatment that uses radioactive sources. The sources are placed on or near to the cancer providing a concentrated dose of treatment to a very precise area.

Brachytherapy may be used alone or in combination with External Beam Radiation Treatment.

A treatment plan will be designed to suit the individual needs of each patient.  The number of treatments will vary from two to four treatments over a period of one to two weeks.  The treatment times are approximately 10 minutes, with the complete process taking one hour.

If your doctor has recommended that you have a course of Brachytherapy you will be given more information by the Radiation Therapists or Oncology Nurse.

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Page last reviewed: 17 October 2014
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