Lung Cancer Radiation Treatment Options
Radiation Therapy background
Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, destroys cancerous tumors by preventing cell division. It involves the delivery of high energy radiation beams propelled by a linear acceleration device to destroy cell DNA. In this way the tumor is either shrunk or completely destroyed. Radiation treatment is often combined with one or more other forms of treatment including surgery or chemotherapy.
How is radiation therapy used in treating lung cancer?
More than half of all persons diagnosed with non-small cell cancer of the lungs will undergo radiation treatments at some point in their treatment. Depending on the type of malignant growth and the stage of the lung cancer, radiation therapy is often applied for the following purposes:
- In connection with surgery- either to shrink tumors prior to surgery, or afterwards to treat any cells that may remain after an operation
- To cure lung cancer- Some small tumors have been effectively neutralized by radiation in patients where surgery was not an option.
- To treat lung cancer- Radiation is useful in treating lung cancer as well as any other areas where the cells may have metastasized. Symptoms such as pain or shortness of breath can also be relieved by radiation.
- Prevention- if diagnosis has been made early, radiation therapy may help prevent further spread of a malignant growth
Radiation treatment comes in many forms, such as internal radiation involving an implant of radioactive material into the body. Internal radiation may alleviate some symptoms but does not provide a complete cure for lung cancer. Other types of radiation treatment are 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy and stereostatic body radiation treatment.
Radiation therapy in lung cancer treatment is usually given daily, Monday through Friday, for a six-week period. A radiation oncologist will calculate and adjust dosages as needed through the treatment period. A crucial part of the diagnosis involves determining where and how to aim the radiation beams in the most efficient manner.
What side effects can a patient expect from radiation treatments?
The most common and immediate side effect from lung cancer radiation treatments is skin irritation. It usually starts within the first couple of weeks of treatment and can involve redness or peeling. Another common side effect is fatigue which can last several weeks after treatment. Patients may experience esophagitis or pain/difficulty in swallowing. Local hair loss and digestive problems may occur. Serious symptoms such as lung damage may occur in cases where re-irradiation is required.
On the whole, many recipients of radiation therapy are encouraged to continue engaging in daily activities during treatment periods. However, fatigue may present a challenge and adequate rest and recovery is recommended. Over-the-counter or prescriptions may help with symptoms and side effects.
One should also be aware that some radiation techniques such as internal radiation cause the body to emit radioactive waves which may be harmful to others around the patient.
What alternatives are there and do they have less side effects?
Cyberknife therapy is a newly developed treatment that may carry less side effects with it. This type of therapy seeks to reduce damage to normal cells by enhancing the manner in which radiation beams are applied externally to the to cancer site. It does this using a robotic arm to guide the beams from multiple angles to ensure that the entire growth is reached.
Cyberknife therapy also utilizes an advanced image guidance system that allows physicians to obtain instantaneous x-ray images for clearer and more accurate reference points. The skeletal frame of the patient helps provide a detailed blueprint of the unique body structure of each individual client. In this way much physicians are allowed to perform treatments with movements that are calculated for maximum efficiency.