Radiation Therapy for Cancer - Myths and Facts

Written by
Dr. Jatin Bhatia
and medically reviewed by Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published on May 03, 2019   -  2 min read



Radiation therapy is not new. It is an old concept, uses of which has increased in the past two decades. Its role in cancer management has grown from curative to palliative intent. However, there are still certain misconceptions regarding this therapy.

Radiation Therapy for Cancer - Myths and Facts

What Is Radiation Therapy?

These are high energy X-rays used to kill cancer cells. These powerful rays attack the DNA (the chemical inside the cell which contains the genetic information). After the attack, the damaged cells attempt to repair the damage, if the repair is successful, the cells live. But if the repair is not successful, the cells die.

What Are the Types of Radiation Therapy?

There are mainly two types of radiation therapy:

  1. Teletherapy - Here, the radiation is delivered from a distance, usually 80 to100 cm.
  2. Brachytherapy - Here, the radiation is delivered from near the target area.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages and they are the weapons that are used depending upon the type of enemy.

The basic objective of radiation therapy or for that matter any treatment is maximum tumor kill and minimum side effects. With advances in cancer treatment, now it is feasible to achieve maximum tumor kill (>95 %) and keep side effects to a minimum. It is the latter that dictates the cost of treatment.

How Is Radiation Therapy Delivered?

Usually, it is a 5 to 6 weeks course, where the treatment is delivered five days or a week on an outpatient basis. Each session is of 15 to 20 minutes.

What Are Myths About Radiation Therapy?

Commons myths revolving around radiation therapy are:

  • Radiation is painful - It is a painless procedure, and is similar to getting a CT scan done. One has to lie down on a couch for 15 to 20 minutes, and rest is taken care by the machine. The most essential requirement is lying still and comfortably, so that radiation is delivered accurately to the desired site.
  • After taking radiation, I will become radioactive and pass it on to people near me - Radiation does not pass from one person to another. Giving radiation is like splashing water, and those nearby will be exposed to radiation at the time of splash. However, radiation does not spread from one person to another. Due to advances, unnecessary exposure is kept to a minimum and there are monitoring devices which record radiation exposure. However, your family members are safe.
  • Radiation causes cancer - Yes, radiation causes cancer, since radiation causes damage to the DNA (called a mutation). However, the risk of developing cancer is slightly higher than healthy individuals and the benefit attained through radiation outweighs this risk manifold. Also, it takes usually 10 years for radiation-induced cancer to develop, hence a more significant concern while giving radiation to children.
  • After complete removal of tumor, no need for radiation - Whether cancer will return or not depends upon multiple factors like extent of surgery (whether completely removed), type of cancer (some cancers are inherently notorious for aggressive behavior), and extent of cancer (the ones which have spread are more likely to return even after complete removal). In all cases where there is a likelihood of return, radiation is necessary for minimizing the chances of return. There are multiple research studies which have validated this.

What Is the Cost of Radiation Therapy?

The cost depends upon the technique used, but the effect of radiation is the same. However, it is the probability of side effects that vary, with latest advances, better sparing of the normal organs is possible. There are multiple charitable, governmental, and, private hospitals who render these expensive treatments affordable.

Last reviewed at:
03 May 2019  -  2 min read


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