Knowledge

How oncologists minimize radiation side effects

Knowledge

How oncologists minimize radiation side effects

Cancer radiation treatment comes with side effects, but new techniques and technology are helping patients maintain a normal life during treatment.

“I try to reassure patients that radiation therapy has been around for over 100 years,” says Diana Santiago, M.D., a radiation oncologist at Piedmont. “Since that time, there have been many advances in radiation.”

Advanced radiation treatment plans

The radiation oncology team performs careful clinical planning to minimize the side effects as much as possible.

“We use a lot of sophisticated treatment plans to create multiple radiation beams to treat the patient,” says Dr. Santiago. “Unfortunately, when we are delivering these beams, it comes at a high cost of affecting some of the normal tissues, which leads to the side effects.”

How radiation fights cancer cells

Radiation fights cancer by damaging the double-stranded DNA in the tumor cell, which is the “mastermind” of the cell that tells it when to grow and divide.

Some normal cells can be damaged by the radiation as well. Fortunately, normal cells are better at repairing DNA damage than cancer cells.

Radiation side effects: What to expect

The side effects of radiation treatment typically do not appear right away.

“It takes a few weeks for the radiation dose to accumulate before patients notice any changes in how they feel or look,” says Dr. Santiago. “But eventually, they’ll get these side effects.”

Fatigue is the most common side effect, regardless of which part of the body is being treated. However, Dr. Santiago says many patients are able to work and complete their normal activities during radiation treatment.

Other common side effects, depending on the part of the body being treated, include:

  • Skin irritation, much like a sunburn

  • Diarrhea

  • Trouble eating

“Our approach is simple: We use state-of-the-art technology to provide precise radiation treatments to the area of the tumor, while protecting our normal organs,” she explains. “We do that for every part of the body we treat.”

Learn more about the long-term side effects of radiation.

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