When high-powered X-rays are used in order to kill cancer cells, that treatment is called radiation. Unfortunately, this kind of treatment does a great damage to the DNA, because it works by damaging the genes (DNA) in cells. Genes control how cells grow and divide. While the concept of radiation sounds good – alter the DNA of cancer cells in order to wipe them out, in practice this treatment also affects healthy cells.
Radiation causes nerve damage, leading to numbness and pain. When this treatment is used to the head and neck area can damage the glands, causing throat and mouth sores. When it is used to the stomach or pelvis can damage the intestines, limits reconstructive options for breast cancer and can cause significant damage to the heart, lungs or any other organ nearby. Worst of all, it causes second cancers.
Yet, radiologists believe that these side-effects are merely significant as radiation does more good according to them. They couldn’t be more wrong.
According to past researches, radiation could actually kill cancer cells, but today researches are discovering that it actually creates second cancers.
According to a recent study done at UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, radiation actually causes breast cancer cells to form more tumors. Moreover, malignancy in radiation treated breast cells was likely to be 30 times more probable, meaning that radiation promotes malignancy in cancer cells instead of killing them.
It was reported by researchers that radiation treatment transforms cancer cells into treatment-resistant breast cancer stem cells (CSCs). Even though radiation targets cancer cells and can regress tumors, this is only in the short-term, before the tumors regrow.
Another study has shown that cancer stem cells are involved with treatment failure. Just like with chemotherapy, many cancer cells are left behind, plus radiation can turn normal cells into cancerous ones.
The only time when radiation is useful is when it is used for palliative care.
There are many questions that the cancer patient should ask before deciding on whether to undergo radiation. Besides the usual ones such as does radiation therapy harm surrounding organs? (yes, it does), or will I suffer from fatigue? (likely so), and does it contribute to lymphedema? (it does), here are 10 more to keep in mind:
- What is the goal of the radiation for my cancer? Is this a cure or a short term solution?
- What will your proposed treatment do to my cancer stem cells?
- How will you support my immune system during treatment?
- How will you protect my heart, lungs, and/or other organs from the radiation?
- How will this treatment change the cancer environment: will it only kill some of the cancer cells and leave me vulnerable when the cancer stem cells go on to create more cancer?
- What is your opinion on taking antioxidants and other supplements during treatment?
- How will radiation affect my risk of distant relapse, which has a much higher rate of recurrence (30%) than the 10-15 percent of patients with stage I or II who will develop a local recurrence? In light of the risk of the radiation creating more cancer, how will this radiation treatment benefit me?
- What lifestyle changes will I need to make to improve the outcome of the radiation treatment and protect my body during treatments?
- Will a planning CT (CAT scan) be required to determine the area to be treated? Will I require more than one of these scans which inherently subject me to even more radiation?
- Would you give this same treatment to your wife or children, and if not, what would you recommend for them? Would you do it yourself?
A lot of people are not comfortable asking too many questions because they think they might sound arrogant, but it is your health and you have the right to say or ask anything in order to keep your health as much as you can. It is the law; doctors must inform the patients EVERYTHING, so don’t be afraid to pose tens or hundreds of questions.