Radiation therapy

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Radiation therapy or radiotherapy uses high energy, ionizing beams to treat cancer and certain benign disorders. It can also control malignant diseases when a tumor cannot be removed surgically or there is a local nodal metastasis. The high energy rays damages the cancer cells and stop it from replicating and growing. A radiation oncologist is a specialist in radiation therapy.



Radiation therapy is a local treatment which is just like how surgery works. The effect of the radiation is only limited to the site where cancer cells are. The radiation may come from a machine (external radiation) or the radiation may come from an implant that is placed near the tumor (internal radiation). The implant is a container of a radioactive material. In some cases, there are patients that receive both kinds of radiation therapy.

External radiation

It is usually given on an outpatient basis in a hospital or in a clinic. It does not require hospitalization. Shielding of the other parts of the body is done so that it will not be affected by radiation. The dose of radiation is also limited so that the normal cells are protected. However, unlike chemotherapy, the normal cells that are affected by radiation can recover. The patient is not radioactive during the therapy or after the therapy.

Internal radiation

This requires short-term hospitalization. The implant that is received may be temporary or permanent. During the stay at the hospital, the level of radiation is at its highest and, as a precautionary measure, visitors are not allowed or may only be allowed for a short span of time. During the course of therapy, the patient should have full bed rest and is given an internal foley catheter for urination.

However, when the implant is already removed from the body, the patient is no longer radioactive. In permanent implants, the level of radiation from the implant goes down to a safe level before the patient is discharged from the hospital.

Side effects

The extent and kinds of side effects of radiation therapy depends on its treatment dose and the area of the body that is treated. The most common side effects are:

  • Tiredness
  • Skin reactions (may be rash, redness, permanent pigmentation and scarring) in the area being treated
  • Anorexia

Inflammation of the tissues and organs and around the area of treatment can also occur during radiation therapy. The subsequent symptoms that may occur after this depend on the organ that is being treated.

Radiation therapy can also cause a decrease of the white blood cells, the cells that help the body fight infection. This makes the patient susceptible to infections.

The side effects of radiation therapy are not permanent. Though these side effects are unpleasant, these can be managed and controlled.

In the Philippines

Radiation therapy in the Philippines is a multidisciplinary field that involves radiotherapists, medical physicists, and radiotherapy technologists. There are 12 hospitals in the Philippines that have the facilities needed for radiation therapy. Of these, eight are in Manila while four are in the provinces.