Radiation Oncologists – Targeting & Treating Cancer

Radiation Therapy Defined

Radiation therapy encompasses the use of high-energy radiation to damage cancer cells’ DNA and destroys their ability to divide and grow. It is delivered using ultra-modern equipment known as linear accelerators or via radioactive sources that are placed inside the patient on a temporary or permanent basis. Radiation therapy is used to cure cancer, relieve a cancer patient’s pain, or alleviate other symptoms.

Preparation for radiotherapy is performed by a radiation oncologist. The therapy is focused on targeting the radiation dose to the tumor as precisely as possible to minimize side effects and avoid damaging normal cells. Imaging tests may be used to help determine the exact shape, size, and location of your tumor and define its boundaries. Your radiation oncologist will give you specific instructions and prepare a treatment plan based on the type of exam being performed and its results.

Goal and Types of Radiation Therapy

The goal of radiation therapy is to get enough radiation into the body to kill the cancerous cells while preventing damage to healthy tissue. Depending upon the location, size, and type of cancer, your radiation oncologist may use one or a combination of techniques. Your treatment team will help you choose the best treatment for you. 

Radiation therapy is performed in two ways – externally or internally. During external beam radiation therapy, the radiation oncologist uses a machine to direct high-energy X-rays at the tumor. Internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy, involves placing radioactive sources inside your body. Other types of radiation therapy include Systemic Radiation Therapy, Novel Targeted Therapies, Radiosensitizers, Radioprotectors, Intraoperative Radiation Therapy, Chemotherapy, Immunotherapy, etc.

Your Radiation Therapy Team

A team of highly trained and experienced medical professionals will be involved in your care during radiation therapy. This team is led by a radiation oncologist, a specialist in cancer treatment using radiation.

Radiation Oncologists

Radiation oncologists are the doctors who oversee radiation therapy treatments. These physicians work closely with other members of the radiation therapy team to develop and prescribe your treatment plan and to make sure that each treatment is delivered with utmost accuracy. Your radiation oncologist will help diagnose and treat any side effects that might occur due to the therapy. They work closely with other cancer doctors and physicians including medical oncologists and surgeons, and all members of the radiation oncology team including medical physicists, dosimetrists, radiation therapists, radiation oncology nurses, dietitians, physical therapists, and other healthcare professionals.

Radiation Therapy Side effects

Radiation therapy side effects usually occur when the healthy cells and tissue near the treatment area suffer damage. Major types of radiation therapy are precise but some may include severe side effects. Radiation therapy side effects depend on which part of the body is being exposed to radiation and how much radiation is being used. A patient may experience no side effects at all, or he/she may experience several. Most side effects are temporary in nature, can be controlled and usually disappear over time once treatment ends.

Some common radiation therapy side effects include:-

  • Skin problems
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Mouth and gum sores
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stiffness in the jaw
  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Lymphedema
  • Tooth decay
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breast or nipple soreness
  • Shoulder stiffness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Badder irritation
  • Frequent urination
  • Sexual dysfunction

Coping with Radiation Therapy Side Effects

Everyone experiences different side effects from the cancer treatment. Before treatment, ask your health care team to educate you on which side effects you may develop. And, continue regular communication with the team throughout your treatment schedule to keep a track and cope with the side effects. Communicate when side effects appear or worsen; this allows your health care team to provide appropriate treatment options.

What are the diseases treated by Radiation Oncologists?

  • Lung cancer
  • Melanoma and other skin cancers
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian, cervical and uterine cancer
  • Oral cancer
  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Tumors of the kidney (urological cancers)
  • Leukemia and other blood cancers

How to Become a Radiation Oncologist?

To become a radiation oncologist, an aspirant must undertake five and a half years of training in M.B.B.S from medical college. Further, a postgraduate degree in Radiation Oncology/Radiotherapy is required. In addition, they can also pursue a Fellowship course in High Precision Radiation Therapy (Cyberknife & Tomotherapy).

Dr. Rishab Sharma

Dr. Rishab Sharma MBBS, MD (Internal Medicine) He is associated with Fortis Escorts Hospital, Jaipur. Dr. Rishab has wide experience in managing a variety of diseases, as well as managing critical care units in large government and corporate hospitals.

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