Does Radiation Always Kill Cancer Cells? A Comprehensive Guide

Radiation therapy is a delicate balance between killing cancer cells and minimizing damage to normal cells. Learn more about how it works and its potential side effects.

Does Radiation Always Kill Cancer Cells? A Comprehensive Guide

Radiation therapy is a delicate balance between killing cancer cells and minimizing damage to normal cells. It may take days or even weeks of treatment for cells to begin to die, and they may continue to die for months after treatment ends. Radiation therapy works by making small breaks in the DNA inside cells, which prevents cancer cells from growing and dividing, and often causes them to die. Normal cells close to cancer can also be damaged by radiation, but most recover and return to normal function.

However, if radiation therapy doesn't kill all cancer cells, they will grow back at some point in the future. Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, is a treatment that uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It is often used after surgery to reduce the risk of cancer returning, and can also be used to relieve pain and other symptoms of advanced breast cancer. Many of the commonly used cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, kill tumor cells. However, sometimes after those cells have died and been eliminated, the tumor responds by growing faster and more aggressively. Because of the potential conflict between the goal of radiation therapy (producing free radicals) and the goal of antioxidants (neutralizing free radicals), it makes sense to stop taking any antioxidant supplements during radiation therapy.

Sometimes radiation therapy is the only cancer treatment needed, and sometimes it is used with other types of treatment. Another interesting application of the drug is that it protects normal cells without diminishing the therapeutic antitumor effect of radiation and, in addition, without promoting radiation-induced carcinogenicity in mice injected with the tumor cell. Before the first treatment session, you'll conduct a radiation therapy planning session (simulation), in which a radiation oncologist carefully maps the area of your breasts to point to the precise location of the treatment. The goal of radiation after the lumpectomy is to kill any individual cancer cells that may have remained in the breast after the tumor was removed. For clinical benefit, it will be useful to translate these findings to maximize radiation toxicity to tumor cells and, at the same time, protect early or late normal cellular toxicities using targeted molecular radioprotectors will be useful in radiation treatment. On the other hand, protons with high LET radiation (from a cyclotron or synchrotron) deposit more energy in target areas and also cause more biological effects than low LET radiation.

The American Cancer Society offers programs and services to help you during and after cancer treatment. Before starting treatment, the radiation oncologist will review your medical history with you and perform a physical exam to determine if you would benefit from radiation therapy. If your cancer care team recommends radiation therapy, it's because they believe that the benefits you'll get from it will outweigh any potential side effects. If the area receiving radiation in your body includes the ovaries, the radiation dose may cause them to stop working (infertility) and you may not be able to have children. For example, after irradiation of the entire breast is complete, a radiation boost is usually given to the area where the cancer was removed. Surgery is done to remove the cancer and radiation is done to kill any cancer cells that may remain after surgery.

Understanding the trade-off between expected decreases in normal tissue toxicity as a result of better radiation dose distribution at the target site is an increasingly relevant but necessary care and research in the area of radiation oncology. This is because radiation works, in part, by creating free radicals - highly energized molecules that damage cancer cells. The cancer care team can answer specific questions about the type of radiation you were prescribed, how it affects your body, and any precautions that may be needed.