Radiation treatment is a method of treating cancer by using high energy radioactive waves to destroy or injure cancerous cells. Malignant cells that make up a cancerous tumor tend to grow quickly and abnormally. Radiation treatment is designed to halt this growth by targeting and destroying the cancerous cell’s DNA, resulting in the death of the cells or the shrinking of the tumor. It does not usually destroy normal healthy cells, because they grow more slowly and are able to recover from any damage caused by the radiation.
There are two types of radiation treatment: external and internal. The external type is delivered externally to the body by a highly specialized machine. This machine targets and delivers radioactive rays to the specific part of the body affected by cancer. External radiation treatment only targets a tumor and a small percentage of surrounding healthy tissue. It may be used in conjunction with other treatments such as chemotherapy. In many cases, it is also used along with the surgical removal of the tumor to ensure that it does not reappear. It usually requires no hospital stay.
Internal radiation treatment can be administered in two ways. One method of destroying cancer cells with this method is with radioactive implants. The radioactive element is contained in casings or catheters which are placed inside the body, either in the tumor itself or in the tumor bed where a tumor has been surgically removed. Internal radiation treatment can also be administered through ingestion or injection. In this case, the radioactive substance is not contained in any form, and treatment usually requires a relatively long hospital stay.
A radiation oncologist is the physician that coordinates and manages a patient’s treatment. The radiation oncologist is the patient’s primary doctor, but he or she works with a team of heath care professionals who carry out the administration of the radiation treatment. This team consists of a radiation physicist who works with the radiation machinery, a dosimetrist who calculates the proper dose of radiation, a radiation therapist who is similar to an x-ray technician and a radiation nurse whose job it is to educate the patient and his or her family members, as well as to provide nursing care.