Treatment of disease by radiation; also called irradiation. The radiation may be given in the form of a beam, or radioactive material (such as radium) may be contained in various devices that can be inserted directly into the tissues or into a body cavity. The radioactive material may also be given by injection into a vein or as a drink.

The most common condition for which radiation is used is cancer. Some cancers respond well to radiation therapy alone; others are treated best with radiation therapy in conjunction with surgery or anticancer drugs (or both). When a cancer is too far advanced for surgery, radiation therapy can often help to relieve symptoms.

In addition to killing cancer cells, radiation can also have a harmful effect on normal cells. But cancer cells are more susceptible because radiation acts best on cells that are dividing (multiplying) rapidly. The normal cells most commonly affected are those that divide rapidly—-such as those of the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, the reproductive organs, and the bone marrow.

Depending on where the beam of radiation is directed on the body, side effects from radiation can include diarrhea and vomiting, mouth ulcers, hair loss, and suppression of the bone marrow. Most of the side effects quickly disappear if the dose of radiation is reduced or if the treatment is stopped briefly. Modern techniques and equipment have reduced the frequency of side effects.

Radiation Therapy versus Chemotherapy

Recently a study was released that looked at the pros and cons of using Chemotherapy instead of radiation therapy for some types of cancer (in my case stage I seminoma Testicular Cancer) where radiation is seen as the "best practice" currently. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Radiation Therapy can sometimes cause cancer unrelated to the cancer that it is killing. This is basically what happened to Marie Curie.
  2. Usually the cancer caused by Radiation Therapy has a higher mortality rate than the kind of cancer that it killed.
  3. Even if a relapse occurs, it is usually the same kind of cancer and is just as easily cured.
  4. Chemotherapy, although more intense in the short term, does not have any well documented long term side effects.

At this point only the abstract of the paper that discusses the pros and cons is out but for Testicular Cancer, chances of recurance with no radiation and not chemo are about 20%, with radiation, 2-3% and with chemo, 4-5%. The cances of developing another type of cancer later with radiation are about 2-3%. There are no known long term effects of chemo (at least in the case of the silver bullet drug for testicular named carbo-platin) but more data needs to be accumulated (which basically means that more time needs to pass so that we can see what happens to the folks who chose chemo later in life.)

My doctor at Kaiser Permanente gave me the choice after explaining the current state of things and I chose chemo so hopefully I won't be a statistic.

Source: American Society for Clinical Ontology. "A randomised comparison of single agent carboplatin with radiotherapy in the adjuvant treatment of stage I seminoma of the testis, following orchidectomy" 5/29/2005: http://asco.org/ac/1,1003,_12-002636-00_18-0026-00_19-00898,00.asp

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