Cancer treatment: Is radiation therapy safe? Here’s all you need to know


India will witness almost 12 per cent rise in cancer cases by the year 2025, according to the National Cancer Registry Programme Report 2020. But cancer is curable if diagnosed in time, and a diverse range of treatments are available to provide a cancer-free life.

Cancer is a vast spectrum of diseases in itself that can involve different parts of the body. Genetic along with lifestyle causes also have a bigger role to play in its causation. Hence to fight cancer, one needs to introduce changes at multiple levels as it is multifactorial in origin, said Dr Kanika Sood Sharma, clinical lead and senior consultant, oncology, radiation oncology, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital. Along with that, there are a number of apprehensions about cancer treatments that need to be addressed.

In the line of cancer treatment, the field of radiation oncology is showing satisfactory results but myths and misinformation associated with radiation therapy, at times, lead patients to avoid this treatment. Many oncology doctors share instances where patients avoided radiation due to fears and later when they make up their mind to get treated, the disease becomes too advanced and incurable. Hence people need to be guided properly, mentioned Dr Kanika.

Radiation and myths about pain

In radiation therapy, the cancer cells are precisely targeted and destroyed through photon beams (electromagnetic radiations) but the patient does not feel any pain or electric sensation. This procedure involves multiple episodes of therapy and leads to gradual shrinkage in the tumour or cancer.

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Advanced technique

Considering the crude techniques which were previously used, the fear of losing organs prevailed till a couple of decades back. But the current day techniques are so advanced that it very minutely targets the cancer cells in millimetric precision and the fear of destroying surrounding organ cell is very less. The ability to cure the tumour depends upon the stages of cancer in which the patient reports. If the patient reports when the disease is already widespread then results may not be that rewarding in terms of cure but then treatment is given to make the patient’s life comfortable so as to improve quality of life.

“All cancer patients once diagnosed should start with the prescribed treatment as early as possible to ensure improved survival,” she mentioned. Along with that: –

*People fear skin burns during therapy, but the conformal techniques offered in the current day are safer and one encounters skin changes only when cancer has already penetrated through the skin in which case radiation is intentionally delivered on the skin. The major skin changes are in form of a tan and are self-limiting i.e. as time passes by, new skin cells develop and marks get fainter.
*The fear of losing hair during radiation prevails more than any other. Basically, people lose hair due to radiation if cancer is in the head region. Treating the chest or abdomen region does not cause hair loss.

Precautions to take

Precautions during radiation therapy

Cancer patients are already immune-compromised and are more prone to any infection; hence they need to maintain a safer distance from the people having any infectious disease as it may infect cancer patients severely. Along with that, they need to maintain proper hygiene at every level.

The diet schedule of the patients on radiation therapy

Patients on radiation therapy are usually not advised to have raw foods as it may have germs which can potentially infect patients. They should eat properly cooked food. For nutrition purpose also, they are advised to eat fruits which can be eaten directly or don’t involve multiple steps of peeling then cutting etc. as it may involve more human touch and the risk of germs and bacteria is more. Spicy food can be acidic which may induce nausea; vomiting and pain in abdomen so should be avoided.

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