Understanding Radiation Oncology and Its Benefits for Cancer Patients

Radiation oncology is a vital field in cancer treatment. It uses high-energy radiation to target cancer cells. This therapy is pivotal for many patients, providing effectiveness against various types of cancer. This article takes a look at the key aspects of radiation oncology and explores the benefits it offers to cancer patients.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

What is Radiation Oncology?

It focuses on using radiation therapy to treat cancer. This discipline involves a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, including radiation oncologists, medical physicists, dosimetrists, radiation therapists, and oncology nurses. Together, they develop and implement treatment plans tailored to the individual needs of patients.

Radiation therapy treats cancer, but it is often combined with other treatments like chemotherapy. The goal is to maximise the effectiveness of treatment while minimising damage to healthy tissues.

How Radiation Therapy Works

Radiation therapy damages the DNA of cancer cells, which inhibits their ability to reproduce and grow. When the DNA is completely damaged, the cancer cells die and are eliminated by the body's natural processes. The radiation is delivered externally, using machines called linear accelerators, or internally, through a process known as brachytherapy.

External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) uses high-energy radiation beams aimed at the tumour from outside the body. Techniques like intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) help target the tumour precisely, protecting as much healthy tissue as possible.

Brachytherapy involves placing radioactive materials directly inside or near the tumour. This ensures a high radiation dose to the cancer cells while ensuring that the surrounding healthy tissues receive minimum exposure. It treats the cancers of the prostate, cervix, and breast.

Types of Radiation Therapy

There are several types, each with its unique advantages and applications:

      External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT): This is the most common form of radiation therapy. It uses linear accelerators to deliver high-energy X-rays or electrons to the tumour site. Techniques like 3D conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT), IMRT, and SBRT fall under this category.

      Brachytherapy: This internal radiation therapy places radioactive materials inside the body in close proximity to the cancer cells. It can be temporary or permanent, as per the treatment plan.

      Proton Therapy: Unlike X-rays, proton therapy uses protons to deliver radiation. Protons' unique physical properties allow them to release their energy directly at the tumour site, reducing damage to surrounding tissues.

      Systemic Radiation Therapy: This involves the use of radioactive substances like radioactive iodine to travel in the blood to target cancer cells throughout the body. It is commonly used for certain types of thyroid cancer and other malignancies.

Its Benefits in Cancer Treatment

Radiation oncology offers numerous benefits to cancer patients. As you can learn more here at Targeting Cancer, one of its primary advantages is its ability to target and destroy cancer cells precisely, thereby reducing damage to healthy tissues. This precision makes radiation therapy an effective treatment option for tumours located in sensitive areas, such as the brain, spine, head and neck.

Another significant benefit is its versatility. Radiation therapy is applicable at different phases of cancer treatment—before surgery to shrink tumours, after surgery to eliminate remaining cancer cells, or in combination with chemotherapy to enhance overall treatment effectiveness. It is also beneficial for palliative care, helping to relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life for patients with advanced cancer.

Radiation oncology is crucial in the comprehensive treatment of cancer. Its ability to precisely target cancer cells, versatility in combination with other treatments, and ongoing advancements make it a cornerstone of modern cancer therapy. For many patients, it offers hope and improved outcomes, contributing significantly to the fight against cancer.