What is Radiotherapy and How Does It Work?

In the battle against cancer, science and innovation have united to create a formidable weapon: radiotherapy. Radiotherapy, also known as Radiation therapy, is a medical treatment that uses high-energy radiation to target and kill cancer cells or shrink tumors, halting their destructive march and offering hope for a brighter future. It is a crucial component of cancer treatment and is often used alongside surgery and chemotherapy. Radiotherapy works by damaging the DNA of cancer cells, preventing them from multiplying and growing. The treatment can be delivered externally using a linear accelerator or internally using radioactive sources placed near or inside the tumor.

How Does Radiotherapy Work Against Cancer?

Radiotherapy operates as a simple yet powerful treatment targeting designed to halt the growth of cancer cells and eliminate them. This therapy utilizes radiation generated from sophisticated machines like linear accelerators, penetrating deep within the body, seeking out cancerous tumors like a focused beam of light cutting through the darkness.

But how does this radiation precisely target cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue? The answer lies in the art of precision. With state-of-the-art technology and advanced imaging techniques, radiation oncologists meticulously map out tumor boundaries. By creating a highly accurate treatment plan, they ensure that the radiation beam aligns precisely with the tumor, limiting exposure to surrounding healthy cells.

Radiotherapy employs a diverse array of techniques, each tailored to the unique characteristics of the cancer being treated and the individual patients. Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) allows for the precise control of radiation intensity, sculpting the radiation beam to conform to complex tumor shapes. Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) targets small tumors with immense precision, delivering high doses of radiation in a single session. Brachytherapy, on the other hand, involves placing radioactive sources directly inside or near the tumor, providing localized radiation therapy.

Once the radiation penetrates the tumor, it engages in a fierce battle at the cellular level. The high-energy radiation damages the DNA of cancer cells, impairing their ability to divide and multiply. It is important to note that radiotherapy does not kill cancer cells immediately, it takes days or weeks of treatment for DNA to be damaged enough for cancer cells to die. Remarkably, cancer cells are particularly vulnerable to radiation due to their accelerated growth rate and reduced ability to repair DNA damage compared to healthy cells.


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While the primary aim of radiotherapy is to obliterate cancer cells, protecting healthy tissue is of paramount importance. Radiation oncologists employ sophisticated techniques, such as image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), to track the tumor’s movement during treatment. This enables them to make real-time adjustments, ensuring that healthy tissues adjacent to the tumor receive minimal radiation exposure. With such precision, radiotherapy offers the potential to spare healthy cells, reducing side effects and preserving the quality of life for patients.

Radiotherapy not only targets tumors directly but also empowers patients with renewed hope. It is often used in combination with surgery or chemotherapy, complementing their effects and increasing the chances of a successful outcome. For some patients, radiotherapy serves as a curative treatment, while for others, it provides palliative relief by alleviating symptoms and improving quality of life.

What Techniques are Employed in Radiotherapy to Effectively Treat Cancer?

Radiotherapy as a vital component of cancer treatment, encompasses a wide range of techniques that can be tailored to meet the unique needs of individual patients. The selection of a specific technique is guided by several factors, including the type and size of cancer, its location within the body, as well as the patient’s age and medical conditions. Through carefully considering these variables, healthcare professionals strive to optimize treatment outcomes and ensure the most effective course of action for each individual. Some of these techniques include;

1. External Beam Radiation Therapy

This is the most common type of radiotherapy used to treat various types of cancer. It involves the use of a machine called a linear accelerator to generate and deliver radiation beams from outside the body directed toward the tumor. The machine rotates around the patient, directing the radiation at specific angles to target the tumor. The radiation passes through the healthy tissues on its way to the tumor, and the treatment is carefully planned to minimize damage to surrounding healthy organs.

2. Internal Radiation Therapy

In this approach, radioactive sources are placed inside or near the body. It allows for the delivery of high radiation doses to the tumor while sparing normal tissues. The radioactive sources can be implanted temporarily or permanently, depending on the specific treatment plan. This method allows for a high dose of radiation to be delivered to the tumor while reducing exposure to surrounding healthy tissues.

The radiation source can be solid or liquid. Internal Radiation Therapy with a solid source is called brachytherapy. This is most often used to treat cancers of the head, neck, breast, cervix, prostate, and eye. In this type of treatment, seeds, ribbons, or capsules that contain a radiation source are placed in your body or near the tumor. Like external beam radiation therapy, brachytherapy is a localized treatment that focuses on specific areas of the body.

Internal Radiation therapy with a liquid source is called systematic therapy. This is primarily used for certain types of cancer such as thyroid cancer. In this technique, a radioactive substance is administered either orally, or through injection. The substance travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body, seeking out and killing cancer cells. Systematic radiation is particularly effective in cases where cancer has spread to multiple sites.

Radiotherapy in Africa

In many countries in Africa, access to quality cancer care, including radiotherapy, can be challenging due to various factors like limited resources, infrastructure, and trained personnel. These disparities contribute to gaps in cancer treatment options across the continent. However, efforts are being made to improve cancer care in Africa, with the establishment and expansion of specialized centers emerging across the continent. South Africa for instance, has multiple advanced radiotherapy centers and is at the forefront of cancer treatment in Africa.

International collaborations, partnerships, and capacity-building programs have also played a significant role in enhancing cancer care in Africa. Organizations like the African Radiation Oncology Group (AFROG) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) work together to develop educational programs and promote knowledge-sharing among African radiation oncologists. Despite these advancements, some regions still face limitations in the availability and quality of radiotherapy services.

In such circumstances, Neuro Spinal Hospital in Dubai emerges as a compelling alternative, offering a superior alternative for individuals seeking advanced radiotherapy treatment. Here’s why:

  1. Technology and Treatment Techniques: Neuro Spinal Hospital in Dubai boasts state-of-the-art technology and advanced techniques. It is equipped with modern linear accelerators, CT simulators, and imaging systems that facilitate precise radiation delivery. This includes techniques like intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) enabling highly targeted treatment while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues. In contrast, many radiotherapy centers in Africa may have limited access to advanced technology and fewer treatment options. Some centers may rely on outdated machines or face frequent breakdowns resulting in treatment delays.
NSH Radiotherapy Room
  1. Expertise and Multidisciplinary Approach: At Neuro Spinal Hospital in Dubai, there is a highly skilled team of radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, and support staff specializing in radiotherapy to deliver world-class care. The hospital follows a multidisciplinary approach, collaborating with other medical specialists to develop personalized treatment plans. In some regions of Africa regions, there is a shortage of trained radiation oncologists, medical physicists, and radiation therapists which hampers the delivery of radiotherapy services and results in longer waiting times for treatment.
  1. Quality Assurance and Accreditation: Neuro Spinal Hospital adheres to stringent quality standards and has earned accreditations from internationally recognized bodies. These accreditations validate the hospital’s commitment to maintaining high-quality care and patient safety.
  1. Patient-focused Care: At Neuro Spinal Hospital, the focus is on providing personalized and compassionate care to every patient. The team takes time to understand each patient’s unique circumstances, concerns, and treatment goals. A patient-centered approach ensures that treatment plans are tailed according to individual needs, preferences, and medical conditions, resulting in the best possible outcomes and overall patient satisfaction.
  1. Timely Access to Treatment: Timely access to treatment in Africa can be a significant challenge due to the lack of technologies and scarcity of radiotherapy centers relative to the population size. This often results in long waiting lists for treatment. In contrast, Neuro Spinal Hospital aims to provide timely access to radiotherapy treatment recognizing the importance of minimizing waiting times. The hospitals’ advanced infrastructure, sufficient resources, and trained professionals allow for efficient scheduling and prompt initiation of therapy. By reducing waiting times, NSH enhances the opportunities for successful treatment outcomes.
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