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Simple techniques do wonders in reducing side effects of radiation

As the famous saying by David H. Koch goes, “You know, once you’ve stood up to cancer, everything else feels like a pretty easy fight.”

We all know that followed by cardiovascular diseases, cancer is today the second leading cause of death across the world. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has estimated that there are 7.6 million deaths across the world every year due to cancer with 12.7 million new cases being reported each year. At a time when cancer cases continue to grow, the medical fraternity too is seen working relentlessly to bring down the mortality rate due to cancer. The alarming cancer statistics have brought with itself newer advancements in treatment methodologies of cancer patients, ensuring higher survival rates. Radiation therapy too is seeing continues advancements and doctors are using simple techniques to lower the side effects of radiation.

Status of cancer in India

In India, the situation of rise in cancer cases is no different and the statistics are alarming. The National Cancer Registry Programme of the India Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has revealed that more than 1300 Indians die every day due to cancer. ICMR has also estimated that by 2020, India is likely to have over 17 lakh new cancer cases and over 8 lakh deaths due to cancer.

Thus, the prevalence of cancer in India is huge. Many reports have stated that the burden of cancer in India has doubled in the last 25 odd years. Studies have pointed out that our country contributes 7.8% of the global cancer burden and 8.33% of global deaths due to cancer.

Of all the cancers, breast cancer continues to be most common cancer affecting women in India. According to the National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research (NICPR), the deaths due to breast cancer are of immense concern as one in every two women who is newly diagnosed with breast cancer is succumbing to the disease.

With such alarming statistics, patients undergoing cancer treatments has also seen a significant increase. This has ensured several advances in cancer treatment methods over the years.

Cancer treatment methods:

Cancer treatment mainly comprises of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and hormonal therapy. As we know, radiation therapy remains a vital aspect of cancer treatment and is inevitable in many of the cases. Radiation therapy mainly works towards curbing the multiplication of cancer cells. The percentage of patients who are diagnosed with cancer and those have to undergo radiation as part of their treatment is quite high. The main aim of radiation is to target and destroy cancer cells while having minimum exposure to normal cells. Even as radiation damages normal cells in the path of radiation, these cells can repair themselves faster and function normally unlike cancer cells. When given high-energy radiation, it damages genetic material and prevents the cancer cells from multiplying.

Studies suggest that radiation accounts to about 40% of curative treatment for cancer. This also indicates that the area of radiation therapy is seeing continuous advancements and is helping give a new lease of life to patients.

Side effects of Radiation:

While treating cancer, fatigue and pain are small term side effects seen in number of patients. The radiation therapy also causes hair loss and nausea in many patients.

The real concern is though is seen in breast cancer patients having tumour on the left side of the chest. In rare cases these patients can have heart problems due to radiation and care must be taken to avoid the same.

While treating rectal cancer, there is a rare probability of the radiation affecting other organs like small intestine and bladder.

Techniques to prevent side effects of radiation:

Active Breath Coordinator (ABC) is one of the most effective techniques which prevents radiation from affecting the heart of breast cancer patients. While giving radiation therapy for rectal cancer, a technique called prone belly is used to prevent radiation affecting other organs.

According to Dr Shona Nag, renowned senior oncologist and Director of Oncology Department at Sahyadri Hospitals, breath holding and prone belly are innovative methods which have been very effective while giving radiation to patients. These are very simple techniques which have transformed the treatment for cancer patients and are making a huge difference. It was always a concern while giving radiation to breast cancer patients having tumour on the left side of the chest as there is a possibility that the radiation could adversely affect the heart. To address this issue, Active Breath Co-ordinator (ABC) is used. Dr. Nag states that the radiation dose to the heart gets reduced by almost one fourth of the actual dose with ABC which is a relief for patients.

In case of rectal cancer, with the patient lying supine, the radiation can cause inflammation to the small intestine which is a huge concern. To avoid this, patients are given radiation on prone belly which is helping in reducing the harm of radiation to the other organs.

According to Dr. Sanjay MH, Radiation Oncologist, Sahyadri Hospitals, only patients who can hold their breath for at-least 20 seconds are suitable to be treated using ABC technique. For this, patients have to lie prone belly for at least 10 minutes during radiation treatment.

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    Presently doctors are using simple techniques which are known to do wonders in reducing side effects of radiation on cancer patients. This is transforming the treatment for cancer patients with reduced side effects due to radiation.

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    Sr Medical Oncologist and Director Oncology Dept
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    Email – [email protected]

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