The Pros And Cons Of Radiation Therapy

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I n 1898, the radioactive elements Radium and Polonium were found by Marie and Pierre Curie. Thus the concept of treating cancers was born.

The Curie’s work on radiation led to the possibility of cancer treatment, but also provided a better understanding of the atom. That is that an atom has a nucleus at its centre with surrounding energy shells which consist of negatively charged electrons.

The electron was discovered in 1897 by J.J. Tomson, and was the first proved element of the atom. The nucleus is made up of the proton, a positively charged particle, and the neutron, a particle with no charge. The proton’s existence was confirmed by Rutherford while the neutron was discovered by physicist, Sir James Chadwick.

Knowledge of the atomic
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And so it can be seen that internal and external treatments vary and cannot directly be compared as they both treat different cancers.

Radiation therapy does have side effects and risks and so the radiation doses for the patient has to be monitored while the safety to all those involved in the process is of high importance.

Side Effects
Side effects of radiation therapy are determined by the person receiving it but also the type of cancer, radiation and where the tumour is. The most common side effects include fatigue, hair loss, nausea, loss of appetite and fertility issues but to name a few. These would be mainly apart of acute side effects, meaning that they happen early and end with the end of treatment.

Chronic side effects, which happen late, include damage to the bowels, memory loss, infertility and a second tumour. Although a second tumour is a rare occurrence, the most likely cancer to happen is breast cancer after treatment to the chest. This is due to the fact that ionising radiation, although can kills cancers, can also cause cancer by damaging healthy tissues.
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The patient is also checked regularly throughout treatment for any abnormal or unexpected side effects or change within the patient. For the staff who handle the radiation, precautions are taken to limit their long term exposure. These may include wearing lead gowns or keep radioactive material in a safe and secure containers containing lead walls. Lead is used because this material can stop gamma rays, the most penetrating of the particles, thus it will be able to stop penetration of both alpha and beta.

Future of Radiation Therapy
The future of radiation therapy is still being researched for safer and more effective treatments. Researchers are looking at creating real-time imaging for external treatment which will take into account the body’s natural movement and breathing, to increase the accuracy of treatment. But they are also looking at radiosensitisers, making cancer cells more sensitive to radiation through use of some type drugs or chemotherapy, and radioprotectors, protecting normal cells from radiation. Both of which are being used in trials to determine their effectiveness.

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