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What Doctors Don't Tell You © (Volume 7, Issue 4)
Up to 50 per cent of cancer patients will be treated with radiotherapy. It may be used exclusively, or as a back up to chemotherapy or surgery. Like chemotherapy, it comes with its own range of side effects. In this second part of our review of ortho

Nearly half a million patients in the US were treated with ionizing radiation in 1990, making radiotherapy one of the most widely used treatments for cancer.

Radiation was first used in medicine by Marie and Pierre Curie, the well known French pioneers, at the turn of the century. The radiation used to treat cancer is called "ionizing radiation" which affects rapidly dividing cells. Tumour cells, white blood cells, the cells lining the intestinal tract, and those lining the mouth, are all rapidly dividing cells, and are affected by radiation.

A breakthrough in the 1920s meant that doctors didn't have to depend upon natural sources of radiation anymore, they could produce it themselves, artificially. X-ray doses could also be measured and therefore controlled.

High energy radiation Cobalt-60 appeared in the 1950s and was used to treat cancer deep inside the body without burning the skin. By the 1960s, a new invention called the linear accelerator appeared which produced even higher energy.

Radiation beams vary widely in the energy they produce, from about 100 kilo electron volts (KeV) to 25 million electron volts (MeV). As a rule of thumb the higher the energy, the greater is the depth of penetration. Low energy beams deliver their highest dose at the skin. Beams with 25 MeV achieve their highest dose at a depth of about two inches.The newest measurement is the Gray (Gy); one Gy equals 100 rads.

Radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or combinations of the two treatments are used to fight tumours. Alternatively, surgery can be used as the first line of attack. However, there is no evidence anywhere that combining radiotherapy with chemotherapy and surgery produces substantial gain in overall cures (RCS Pointon, ed, Radiotherapy in Malignant Disease, Springer Verlag, New York, 1991).

Evidence is now emerging which suggests that radiotherapy is not quite the wonder cancer treatment it was originally thought to be. Not only does it spread the cancer, rather than eradicating it, in some cases it actually causes cancer in healthy cells.

Breast cancer patients may be at risk of developing lung cancer after radiation. In one study, of 31 patients who'd received radiotherapy for breast cancer, 19 went on to develop a lung cancer on average 17 years later mostly in the lung on the same side as the breast that had been irradiated (Med Onc, 1994; 11 (3-4): 121-5). Some oncologists believe that the lung is especially sensitive to radiation damage, either scar tissue or inflammation which would tend to argue against high dose radiotherapy for lung cancer (Strahl und Onk, 1995; 171 (9): 490-8). Breast cancer patients also risk soft tissue cancers of the breast (Int J Rad Onc, Biol, Phys, 1995; 31 (2): 405-10).

For Hodgkin's disease, radiotherapy, as well as chemotherapy, poses a risk of breast cancer years later (J Gyne, Ob et Biol Repro, 1995; 24 (1): 9-12). In rectal cancer, animal studies have demonstrated the descending colon may be especially susceptible to cancer caused by radiation, particularly after surgery where blood vessels are joined up (Dis Colon & Rec, 1995; 38 (2): 152-8).

Side effects also multiply when chemo and radiation are given together.

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What Doctors Don't Tell You What Doctors Don’t Tell You is one of the few publications in the world that can justifiably claim to solve people's health problems - and even save lives. Our monthly newsletter gives you the facts you won't......more
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