Is radiation therapy safe?

Radio-oncology

Cancer is a heavy burden for all those affected and for those close to them. With this information we would like to help you to reduce uncertainties and fears.

What is radio oncology?

Radio stands for radiation; radiology is the study of radiation. Oncology means the study of tumors. In radio-oncology, our doctors treat tumors with radiation (radiation therapy). Together with surgery and drug therapies ("chemotherapy"), it is one of the three most important treatments for cancer.

How does the radiation work?

Healthy and sick cells react differently to radiation. We take advantage of this fact by protecting healthy cells and killing tumor cells. Every tumor treatment has side effects. Our radiology specialists attach great importance to making the treatment successful and reducing the side effects. Much depends on the precise determination of where and how the tumor is located (tumor location), which is carried out during a medical examination.

How is the radio-oncology of the Lindenhof group doing?

We always want to achieve high quality in our hospital. In the last few years we have made significant progress in radiology and radio-oncology and have increased the chances of recovery for patients: thanks to highly qualified medical specialists, high-performance technology and modern equipment. The medical examinations and treatments of tumors by our experts (Radio-Oncology FMH) are based on the severity of the disease. Each expression requires an individual therapy plan.

What is the goal of radiation therapy?

In the majority of cases, our doctors pursue the goal of using modern technology to permanently rid the patient of the tumor: the tumor or individual cells that could develop into a tumor are killed with the radiation. The total destruction of the tumor does not always succeed. Depending on its size and its proximity to certain organs, we cannot use a sufficient dose of radiation for this. Even if the tumor disease has spread to organs further away (metastasis), a complete cure cannot be achieved with local radiation. In such cases, radiation therapy is used to reduce pain and improve quality of life.

What happens in the body during irradiation?

The growth of a tumor is regulated by cell division - just like in a healthy body. Radiation disrupts cell division in the tumor by inter alia. attack the genetic material in the cell nucleus. The cancer cell loses its ability to divide and dies. However, every cell has a repair system to fix such damage. This ability to repair is much more pronounced in healthy, normal cells than in tumor cells. As a result, the radiation damages the tumor far more than the surrounding tissue.

Radiation therapy takes advantage of this difference in the ability to repair. However, the repair processes in the tissue that is also irradiated and close to the tumor need some time, which is why the entire radiation dose is divided into several individual sessions (fractions). In many cases, daily exposure will give the best results. After successful irradiation, the tumor cells die and are broken down by healthy cells and transported away.

In which cases do we irradiate?

Our experts (Radio-Oncology FMH) often carry out radiation therapy in combination with chemotherapy or as a supplement to an operation.

We currently use radiation therapy to most commonly treat cancer in these areas of the body:

  • Female breast (especially breast-conserving therapy)
  • Prostate (prostate gland)
  • lung
  • uterus
  • rectum
  • Lymph nodes (Hodgkin, non-Hodgkin lymphomas, metastases)
  • Bones (metastases)
  • skin
  • Brain (tumors or metastases)
  • Soft tissues (e.g., sarcomas)
  • Throat, tongue, throat
  • And many others

What is special about prostate radiation?

The target volume with the tumor is between the bladder and rectum (rectum). In order to keep the side effects as low as possible, our doctors adjust the radiation precisely to the chosen target. Since the prostate - in contrast to other organs - can move, they use gold markers or small transponders for accuracy. Because our doctors take a picture before each therapeutic irradiation, thanks to the gold markers and transponders they can adjust the setting to the current position of the prostate with millimeter precision. If certain anatomical conditions exist and we have to irradiate with very high doses, we use modern medical irradiation techniques such as IMRT or RapidArc.

What happens with rectal (rectal) radiation?

Side effects can mainly occur when the small intestine is hit by a higher dose of radiation. To avoid this, we place the patient in a prone position - in a so-called belly board. Since the small intestine, unlike the rectum, lies freely in the abdominal cavity, gravity causes it to fall down into a cavity in the belly board. As a result, the small intestine and rectum are largely separated and the former is protected from a stressful dose of radiation.

Thanks to intensive research and new technologies, radiation therapy has made tremendous progress. Much more people can be healed compared to before. However, there are certain risks. We're doing everything we can to turn them off.

Is Cancer Curable?

Yes - and much more often than is commonly assumed. More than half of all cancer patients today can definitely be cured. Nevertheless, the question is sometimes asked in all seriousness whether a medical measure is worthwhile because the patient “has cancer”. Medical experts from radio-oncology, medical oncology and other areas around the world advise to approach this question with an up-to-date level of information. A conversation with a competent doctor brings clarity.

How does radiation therapy help heal?

50 to 60 percent of all cancer patients are irradiated in the course of their illness. In two thirds of these, the aim is to destroy the tumor. Radiation therapy or the sole treatment is involved in 40 percent of all permanent tumor healing. In the case of many tumors, surgery associated with organ loss can be avoided thanks to radiation. Sometimes the disease is too advanced. In these cases, radiation therapy helps relieve the symptoms.

What counts besides the technology?

Experience shows that the chances of recovery do not only depend on the radiological technique. The high level of technical and human competence of our employees in radio-oncology is just as important. Human warmth and care is the basis for successful treatment.

Is Radiation Therapy Safe?

The same applies to radiation as to many drugs and other medical measures: It is dangerous if it is incorrectly dosed or not used correctly. Our specialists in radio-oncology and medical-technical radiology apply the highest safety standards in every process step so that the radiation is correctly dosed and applied correctly.

What are the side effects of radiation therapy?

The patients feel nothing of the actual radiation. However, like any other effective tumor treatment, radiation therapy can cause side effects.

  • Hair loss only occurs when the head is irradiated. This shows that rays only work where they go.
  • General complaints such as nausea or fatigue occur relatively rarely, mainly with large radiation fields in the abdominal area.
  • Stronger skin reactions (similar to sunburn) are less common today than in the past due to modern radiation techniques. However, they can occur if the skin has to be irradiated with a higher dose because of an irradiated tumor that is close to the body surface. Such skin reactions usually heal within one to two weeks after treatment. Caution: Under no circumstances should the skin be treated with agents that have not previously been discussed with the attending physician.

Does radiation make you radioactive?

Definitely not. Radiation and radiation therapy are not to be confused with radioactivity and nuclear accidents such as in Chernobyl. Radiation patients are not radioactively contaminated. They neither radiate their environment nor do radioactive substances remain in their bodies. An example: A grandmother who was irradiated ten minutes ago can safely take her grandchild in her arms. By the way: cancer is not contagious.

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