Although radiation therapy sounds ominous – and in fact, many of the people who receive it are gravely ill – it is an awesome field of medicine and it is tremendously useful in the battle against many types of cancer. Unlike diagnostic radiation, which is used in x-rays and CT scans, therapeutic radiation is much more powerful, and is actually designed to kill cells or sterilize them. This power makes the use of radiation therapy an extremely specialized and careful process, both for the doctors who prescribe it and for the technicians who administer it. Let’s take a look at a couple interesting things about radiation therapy.
Precision Is Everything
Since radiation therapy is designed to kill cancer cells, the doses of radiation involved are quite high, and can have harmful side effects like skin damage and even can cause new cancers. So, before any treatment is given, the physician involved must decide if the benefits will outweigh the costs. Once the decision is made to proceed with the treatment, the physician usually consults with a radiation physicist to determine a treatment plan, which details how often the radiation will be administered, as well as its intensity, the angle of treatment, and other factors.
Once the treatment plan is complete, the patient must be treated. But before this can happen, the technician must enable a way to precisely target the same area of the patient’s body every time treatment is given. To accomplish this, the technician uses several methods: tattooing the patient, making a cast of the patient’s body for them to lie in (so they lie the same way every time), and also making a specific metal filter for the radiation for each patient. By doing this, the technician minimizes the damage to the patient’s healthy tissue. Typically, radiation therapy lasts several weeks, because the body can only withstand so much radiation at any given time. Not all radiation therapy patients are cured. However, the success rate is high enough so that it remains a valuable technique to help cancer patients.