Friday, March 31, 2006

Radiation Therapy

If you've ever been to the dentist or been treated for a broken bone, you've experienced radiation firsthand. In everyday life, radiation in the form of X- rays is used to create images of areas of the body that doctors can't see, such as the inside of a tooth or the interior of the chest cavity. But in much higher doses, radiation can be used to treat cancer and other illnesses by not only preventing cells from growing or reproducing, but eventually destroying them.
Also called radiotherapy, irradiation, or X-ray therapy, radiation therapy is one of the most common forms of treatment for cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than half of all people with cancer undergo some form of radiation therapy during treatment. If your child is one of them, keep reading for more information about this potentially life-saving treatment for kids with cancer.
What Is Radiation Therapy?In radiation therapy, high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, or other sources is used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Some types of childhood cancer treated with radiation therapy include brain tumors, Wilms' tumor, and head and neck cancers.
Although the goal of radiation therapy is to destroy cancer cells, it can also be harmful to normal cells. The good news? Normal cells are more likely to recover from the effects of radiation. In radiation therapy, doctors and nurses take extensive measures to carefully monitor radiation doses to protect your child's healthy tissue.
Because each child's situation is different, each child's cancer treatment is individualized and unique. Some kids receive only radiation therapy to treat their cancer. Other children need both radiation and chemotherapy, the use of medicines to destroy cancer cells. And some children require radiation therapy and surgery to remove tumors or cancerous areas.
How Is Radiation Given?Radiation therapy is administered two ways: externally or internally. Some children may receive both external and internal radiation, depending on the child's needs.
External radiation therapy uses a large machine and special equipment that aims very specific amounts of radiation at cancerous tumors or diseased areas of the body. A child who receives internal radiation therapy (also known as brachytherapy, interstitial therapy, or implant therapy) may have a radioactive substance injected or implanted into the body at the site of the tumor or cancer cells. In some cases, a child may swallow a radioactive material. Generally, children receive only external radiation therapy, although kids and teens who have cancers of the head and neck, uterus, cervix, thyroid, and testes may be treated with internal radiation therapy.
A radiation oncologist, a doctor who specializes in radiation therapy, will work with other health care professionals to decide on the type and dose of radiation therapy that's best to cure your child's cancer.
What Happens During Radiation Therapy?Receiving radiation therapy for cancer treatment isn't a one-time deal: Children and teens who receive external radiation usually visit the hospital or treatment center on an outpatient basis 4 to 5 days a week for several weeks, coming in just for the treatment and going home right after. Receiving small daily doses of radiation helps to protect the normal cells from damage, and weekend breaks help the normal cells to recover from the trauma of radiation.
Before the first radiation therapy treatment, a planning session takes place. This process is called simulation. The child lies on an X-ray table, while a radiation therapist uses a special X-ray machine (called a simulator) to define the treatment area. Some X-rays or CT scans might be taken, and an area on the skin is marked with ink to highlight the area to be treated. This "tattoo" should not be wiped off, because these spots help to position the radiation for each treatment. At each external radiation appointment, the child dresses in a hospital gown or robe and enters the radiation treatment room. After the radiation therapist settles the child into position and leaves the room, a large machine delivers the exact amount of radiation necessary to kill the cells in the cancerous area. Most of the time that the patient spends on the radiation treatment table during each visit involves the verification of proper patient positioning - the treatment itself takes only minutes.
Younger children may find it difficult to remain still during the few minutes of treatment. Parents aren't allowed in the treatment room to prevent unnecessary radiation exposure, but other steps can be taken to comfort children undergoing therapy. Some hospitals may provide body molds to help immobilize your child during therapy; others may provide two-way communication devices so you can talk with and reassure your child during treatment. Some treatment centers even provide closed-circuit televisions that allow you to watch your child during the procedure. Some children may need to be sedated or anesthetized so they will remain motionless during the few minutes of treatment. more...

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