Is Radiation Therapy Safe?

When a doctor recommends radiation therapy to help treat cancer, there is something inherently scary about this prospect. After all, radiation therapy involves targeting doses of cell-killing radiation right at the body. The procedure is recommended since it kills cancer cells so effectively, but the reality is cells around the cancer may also be damaged in the process.

When radiation is recommended, many patients are likely to find themselves wondering if the rewards are truly worth the risks. Chances are they’re also going to wonder if radiation is truly a safe route to take.

While the prospect of radiation does sound scary, advances in treatments are enabling clinicians to more effectively kill cancer cells while avoiding as much damage to other parts of the body as possible. Radiation therapy works by damaging the DNA of cancer cells so severely that they die. The desired end result is an eradication of the cancer or a shrinking of a tumor so surgery can be performed more effectively.

Radiation isn’t without its potential side effect risks, but the reality is a number of treatment breakthroughs have made this potentially life-saving therapy safer and more effective than ever before. Here are just a few of the advancements that are making a difference:

• Better positioning for breast cancer patients – Researchers have found that having patients lie face down during treatments can dramatically reduce collateral tissue irradiated during this therapy.
• Use of spacing material for prostate cancer – A new spacer gel injection can effectively push the rectum out of the way of radiation beams during prostate treatments. This, in turn, can lower the amounts of radiation delivered to the rectum and reduce the likelihood of side effects.
• Better precision – New imaging techniques, including Image-Guided Radiation Therapy, are helping clinicians better target radiation to reduce auxiliary damage.

The bottom line is radiation isn’t without its risks, but it has become safer and more effective than ever before. Anyone facing a cancer diagnosis should carefully discuss their case and recommended treatments with their doctors to devise a strategy that’s meant to kill the cancer while minimizing side effect risks inasmuch as possible.

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