What is Radiation Therapy for Lung Cancer?
Radiation therapy for lung cancer is a treatment method that uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells or stop their growth as much as possible. Cancer cells differ from normal cells in their appearance and how fast they divide and form new cancer cells. This radiation is programmed in a way that it attacks and destroys only rapidly dividing cells, which ensures that normal cells are not affected. Radiation therapy may be combined with surgery, chemotherapy, or as a standalone treatment modality for lung cancer.
Alternate Name of Radiation Therapy
Stereotactic Body Radioablation Therapy (SBRT)
How radiation therapy for lung cancer is performed?
Lung cancer is treated using a high-powered radiation source that aims to attack only cancer cells. Therefore, for highly invasive lung cancer, surgeons use radiation to shrink it before surgically removing it. Lung cancer is also preferably treated using radiation therapy if surgery is not an option or the patient refuses to undergo surgery. In cases of cancer where further treatment or rehabilitation is not possible, such as end-stage cancer, radiation therapy is used to relieve cancer symptoms and improve the quality of life for terminal patients. The source of this radiation can be external, via a machine, or may require surgery where an internal source of radiation is implanted inside the body to facilitate maximum exposure. The treatment course can last for three to seven weeks, depending on the nature of cancer and the nature of the radiation used. The dosage of radiation used varies from patient to patient.
Preparation for Radiation Therapy For Lung Cancer
Before radiation therapy, your doctor may require you to walk through a couple of procedures. Some of them are:
- Pre-operative imaging such as MRI/CT: Before indulging in radiation therapy, the oncologist will assess the pros and cons of different treatment modalities to ensure the best possible outcomes. For this, pre-operative imaging scans are carried out that help determines the invasiveness of cancer.
- Blood tests and other screen panels: If the radiation therapy is to be accompanied by any other therapies, blood screen panels will help determine how much you can tolerate them.
- Radiation simulation: Radiation therapy requires you to be extremely still. Hence, your oncologist will conduct a simulation to ensure you can find a comfortable position. The technicians may mark your chest area with ink to facilitate the procedure and guide the radiation.
- Dietary requirements: Your oncologist will guide you with a detailed diet plan as some foods, such as those high in acidity and sodium, need to be avoided when receiving radiation.
Non-invasive, unless brachytherapy is performed (Where an internal source of radiation is placed).
A radiation therapy regimen can last anywhere between 3 to 7 weeks. Once the radiation regimen is completed, the doctor will ask you to follow up 3-6 weeks after the last sitting of radiation therapy. The doctor may ask you to get periodic CT/PET scans to assess whether radiation has impacted cancer and how much. After evaluating the same, they will further guide you with the next steps. This follow-up may be carried out every 6 months after the initial sitting to ensure that cancer has not recurred. In case of radiation therapy has been used to shrink the tumor before surgery, the doctor will assess your fitness and ability to handle an invasive procedure. Following this, they will guide you through the surgery. It is ideal to report any, and, all side effects to the doctor during these follow-up visits.
What are the Risks of Radiation Therapy for lung cancer?
Radiation therapy, while less invasive than other treatment methods for cancer, carries its sets of risks as well. Some of them are:
- Mild skin reactions: Your skin, especially your chest area, may become red, sensitive, and raw due to exposure to high-energy X-rays.
- Difficulty in swallowing: The exposure of the lungs to high-energy X-rays may cause swelling of the region, causing difficulty in swallowing, nausea, cough, shortness of breath, etc.
Recovery from Radiation Therapy
Most side effects of radiation therapy for lung cancer, such as difficulty in breathing, cough, nausea, etc., are mild and resolve on their own and fairly quickly. As far as cancer is concerned, the response of cancer to the treatment is entirely subjective. In most cases, cancer responds well within a few weeks of radiation therapy. If the treatment aims to shrink cancer, this sign is followed up with surgery that prolongs recovery due to invasiveness. If cancer does not respond to the treatment, the oncologist may suggest revisiting alternatives.