Radiotherapy, Here's What You Should Know

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Radiotherapy, Here's What You Should Know
Radiotherapy, Here's What You Should Know

Radiotherapy or radiation therapy is a medical procedure to treat cancer. The purpose of radiotherapy is to kill cancer cells, stop the growth and spread of cancer cells, and prevent cancer recurrence

Radiotherapy can be given through X-ray exposure, implant implants in the body, as well as through oral drugs and injections. To get maximum results, radiotherapy is often used in conjunction with chemotherapy and surgical removal of cancer.

Radiotherapy, Here's What You Should Know - Alodokter

Please note, although it can eradicate and inhibit the growth of cancer cells, radiotherapy can also damage he althy cells. However, these side effects are generally not permanent. To minimize these side effects, radiotherapy needs to be done carefully and only on areas of the body that are affected by cancer.

Radiotherapy is generally done to treat cancers in the head and neck, breast, cervix, prostate, thyroid, or eyes.

Indications of Radiotherapy

The doctor will consider radiotherapy with the following objectives:

  • Relieve symptoms of advanced cancer
  • Shrink tumor size before surgical procedure
  • Treating cancer, either alone or in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy
  • Kills and cleans cancer cells after surgery to remove cancer, so cancer doesn't come back

Radiotherapy Alert

Radiotherapy cannot be used for all conditions, especially during pregnancy. Pregnant women should not undergo radiotherapy, because this therapy can be fatal and cause pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage, premature birth, or placental abnormalities.

Therefore, female patients who are planning to undergo radiation therapy are advised to use contraception during sexual intercourse. This is to prevent pregnancy, both before and during radiation therapy.

Just like female patients, male patients are also recommended to use contraception when having sex while undergoing radiotherapy. In certain cases, male patients are advised to continue using contraception during sex until several months after radiotherapy is completed.

Radiotherapy Preparation

Before starting radiotherapy, the doctor will carry out a series of examinations to ensure that this procedure is safe and appropriate, according to the patient's condition.After that, the doctor will determine the dose and frequency of radiation therapy, according to the type and stage of cancer experienced by the patient.

The doctor will also perform radiation simulation which consists of several stages, as described below:

  • Ask the patient to lie down and determine a comfortable position so that the radiotherapy procedure can run smoothly
  • Providing pillows and tying the patient's body so as not to change position during radiotherapy
  • Do a CT scan to determine the body part that received radiation exposure
  • Determining the type of radiotherapy and how many times the therapy will be performed, according to the results of the examination.
  • Marks the patient's body parts that are treated with radiation waves.
  • Run the radiotherapy procedure after all the above steps are completed

Radiotherapy Procedure

There are three types of radiotherapy that are often used to treat cancer. Its application also varies, depending on the patient's condition and the size and type of cancer. The following are the types of radiotherapy in question and their explanations:

External radiotherapy

External radiotherapy is a therapy that is done by directing X-rays or proton beams to parts of the body that are affected by cancer. This therapy is painless so patients can generally go home immediately after the treatment is completed.

External radiotherapy usually lasts 10–30 minutes per session. This therapy can be done twice a week.

Internal radiotherapy

Internal radiotherapy or brachytherapy is done by inserting a radioactive implant into the patient's body, precisely near the location where cancer cells grow. These implants can be left in the body for a few days or permanently, depending on the type of cancer the patient has.

Please note that implants that are left permanently in the body are nothing to worry about, because radiation levels from the implants will decrease over time.

Systemic radiotherapy

Systemic radiotherapy is radiation therapy that is done by inserting drugs into the patient's body. This drug can be swallowed by the patient or injected through a vein.

Systemic radiotherapy or radioisotope therapy is often used in patients with thyroid cancer and prostate cancer. This radiotherapy requires the patient to be hospitalized for a longer time.

After Radiotherapy

The doctor will monitor the patient's condition while undergoing radiation therapy. The doctor will also run a series of examinations to determine the patient's body's response to therapy. If side effects occur, the doctor will give medicines to relieve these side effects.

Please note, the effectiveness of radiotherapy can vary for each patient. Some patients have to undergo radiotherapy for weeks or months for results to be seen.

When to see a doctor

Patients are advised to immediately consult a doctor if after undergoing radiotherapy one or more of the following complaints appear:

  • High fever reaching 38º C
  • Shiver
  • Severe headache and stiff neck
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Daze
  • bloody pee

Side Effects of Radiotherapy

Like other types of treatment, radiotherapy is also at risk of causing a number of side effects. However, these side effects are usually preventable or will go away after radiation therapy ends.

Some of the side effects of radiotherapy are:

  • Itchy, dry and red skin that usually appears 1-2 weeks after therapy
  • Hair loss in the treated body part, generally 2-3 weeks after therapy
  • Diarrhea, which usually appears a few days after radiotherapy is done
  • Lymphedema, which can cause pain and swelling in the legs
  • Easy to get tired, which can last for months after therapy
  • Stiffness, pain, and swelling in the muscles and joints in the treated area
  • Loss of appetite causing weight loss
  • Psychological disorders, such as anxiety, stress, frustration, or depression
  • Sores in the mouth or thrush, which can be accompanied by dry mouth, bad breath, and an uncomfortable feeling in the mouth when eating, drinking or talking
  • Sexual and fertility disorders, including decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction in men, and vaginal dryness in women
  • The immune system is weak due to a reduced number of white blood cells, making it easy to get infections

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