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.
Stereotactic Body Radioablation Therapy (SBRT)
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.
Before radiation therapy, your doctor may require you to walk through a couple of procedures. Some of them are:
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.
Radiation therapy, while less invasive than other treatment methods for cancer, carries its sets of risks as well. Some of them are:
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.