Understand Radiation Therapy and Patient Care

Radiation therapy is used to destroy cancer by using high energy proton beams or x-rays. This can effectively slow the tumor growth without harming the nearby healthy tissues. Doctors usually recommend radiation therapy as a primary cancer treatment. Most of the times, it is used after surgery or chemotherapy. For some cancers however, this therapy alone is an effective treatment. For some other cancers, a combination of treatments is used.

Here are some of the types of radiation therapy that you need to be aware of:

External-beam radiation therapy

This is the most common type of therapy. It delivers radiation from a machine outside the body. It can be used to treat large areas of the body is needed. A machine called a linear accelerator, or linac, creates the radiation beam for x-ray or photon. This method uses special computer software to adjust the beam’s size and shape. This helps target the tumor while avoiding healthy tissue near the cancer cells.

Internal radiation therapy

In this therapy radioactive materials are placed into the cancer or surrounding tissues. These implants may be permanent or temporary. Many a times this type of treatment required hospital stay.

Safety for the patient and family

Doctors have been using therapy to treat cancer safely and effectively for more than 100 years. However, using radiation therapy slightly increases the risk of developing a second cancer. For many people, it is a known fact that radiation therapy helps eliminate the existing cancer. These benefits are greater than the risks that are involved in the treatment of a new cancer. During external beam radiation, the patient does not become radioactive and the radiation remains in the treatment room. However, internal radiation therapy causes the patient to give off radiation. As a result, visitors should follow these safety measures:

  • Don’t visit the patient if you are pregnant
  • Do not visit the patient if you are younger than 18.
  • It’s important to stay at least 6 feet from the patient’s bed.
  • Your visit should be limited to 30 minutes or less each day.
  • Permanent implants remain radioactive after the patient leaves the hospital. Because of this, the patient should not have close or more than 5 minutes of contact with children or pregnant women for 2 months.
  • Similarly, patients who have had systemic radiation therapy should use safety precautions. For the first few days after treatment, take these precautions:
  • Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet.
  • It is important to use separate utensils and towels.
  • Also remember to drink plenty of fluids to flush the remaining radioactive material from the body.
  • Minimize contact with infants, children, and pregnant women.

Make sure that you understand this therapy and the risks involved in patient care. Your doctor will advice you if there are any more specific points to consider.