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General Practice 2023

Radiotherapy: what é, how it works, types and side effects

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Radiotherapy: what é, how it works, types and side effects
Radiotherapy: what é, how it works, types and side effects

Radiotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that aims to destroy or prevent the growth of tumor cells by applying concentrated radiation directly to the tumor.

This type of treatment can be used alone or together with chemotherapy or surgery, depending on the type of cancer and the degree of development.

Unlike chemotherapy, radiotherapy does not cause hair loss, as its effects are felt mainly at the treatment site, although they may also vary according to the type and amount of radiation used.


When is indicated

Radiotherapy is indicated to treat or control the growth of benign tumors or cancer, and can be used before, during or after treatment with surgery or chemotherapy.

In addition, this type of treatment can also be used just to relieve symptoms and provide comfort in more advanced cases of cancer, in which case it is known as "palliative radiotherapy".

How it works

Radiotherapy aims to reduce the multiplication rate of cancer cells, which can be done through different techniques that can be indicated according to the location of the tumor to be treated, its extension and general he alth status of person:

1. External beam radiotherapy (teletherapy)

External radiation therapy, also called teletherapy, is performed with the person lying under a device that has the radiation initially directed to the whole body. Therefore, before starting external radiotherapy, a medical evaluation is carried out to delimit the place to be treated, which is done with a red paint, which should not be removed after the procedure, so that the person can be properly positioned in the device.

During the entire procedure, the person must remain still, as this is how it is possible to ensure that the radiation does not leave the delimited area. In general, teletherapy applications are performed daily and last from 10 to 40 minutes, and during this period the patient lies down and does not feel any discomfort.

2. Brachytherapy

In brachytherapy, radiation is sent to the body through special applicators, such as needles, wires or catheters, which are placed directly on the site to be treated. Depending on the type of tumor, it may be necessary to use different applicators, and sedation may also be indicated, which aims to avoid discomfort when placing the applicator.

Due to the need for sedation, in some cases, it may be indicated that the person fasts before performing brachytherapy.

After sedation, the person is sent to the radiation application room, where they must remain in the most appropriate position for placing the applicators. In the case of gynecological tumors, for example, the woman must be positioned in the gynecological position, as the applicator is placed close to the tumor so that the radiation acts locally.

In general, brachytherapy is indicated 1 to 2 times a week.

3. Radioisotope injection

In this type of treatment, a radioactive liquid is applied directly into the patient's bloodstream, being normally used in cases of thyroid cancer.

Main side effects

Side effects depend on the type of treatment used, the radiation doses, the size and location of the tumor, and the patient's general he alth, but they can usually occur:

  • Redness, dryness, blistering, itching or peeling of the skin;
  • Fatigue and lack of energy that does not improve even with rest;
  • Dry mouth and gum sores;
  • Problems swallowing;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Swelling;
  • Urinary and bladder problems;
  • Hair loss, especially when applied to the head region;
  • Absence of menstruation, vaginal dryness and infertility in women when applied to the pelvis region;
  • Sexual impotence and infertility in men, when applied to the pelvis region.

In general, these reactions begin during the 2nd or 3rd week of treatment and may last up to several weeks after the last application. Also, side effects are more severe when radiation therapy is given along with chemotherapy. Know the side effects of chemotherapy.

Care during treatment

To alleviate the symptoms and side effects of the treatment, care should be taken, such as avoiding sun exposure, using Aloe vera or chamomile-based skin products and keeping the area clean and without creams or moisturizers during treatments. radiation sessions.

In addition, you can talk to your doctor about using medications that fight pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which helps relieve tiredness and facilitate eating during treatment.

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