Radiation Therapy & Pain Control
Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer pain. It is very effective, because it is directed at the cause of the pain. Radiation therapy to reduce or eliminate pain is known as palliative radiation. Radiation may cure cancer, but most of radiation is considered palliative.
Indications for radiation therapy include bone pain, especially when the primary tumor or cancer involves the breast, lung or prostate cancer. Radiation therapy also reduces headaches caused from brain tumors that are unable to be removed with surgery. Radiation therapy is also used for back pain resulting from tumor pressure in the spinal cord, in which case would be considered a medical emergency. Radiation therapy may also alleviate pain caused by tumors pressing on nerves.
What is Radiation Therapy?
Radiation is the use of high energy X- rays to stop cancer cells from growing and multiplying. Radiation therapy is prescribed and delivered by a specialized trained physician known as a radiation oncologist. Radiation therapy combined with medications such as pain pills and steroids may be more effective than radiation alone. Radiation actually stops the growth and spread of tumors. The dosage of radiation that a patient receives depends on several factors that will be discussed with the patient and family prior to the start of treatment. When radiation therapy is recommended for pain control, the treatments should be as convenient and over the least amount of time as possible. The average length of radiation therapy for pain control and tumor reduction is between one to two weeks.
Machines that use high-energy radiation will be used to administer external radiation (radiation directed outside of the body only). You will lie at some distance from the machine. These machines work by delivering high-energy X-ray beams. Treatment planning is done to determine the most efficient way to administer radiation while at the same time protecting your body's normal tissue from radiation. The first treatment involves simulating (visualizing and defining the exact treatment area). An X-ray machine different than the one previously described will be used for this purpose. This machine is known as a simulator. Temporary dye or permanent very small dot tattoos may be used to mark key areas on the skin to ensure that the same area is treated everyday. You may experience more discomfort with this initial treatment. Your doctor or nurse may advise you to take a pain pill prior to the start of your first couple of visits.
Side effects occur with radiation therapy because damage is done to the normal tissue by radiation. Side effects common within the treated area include skin problems, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Other side effects may occur depending on the amountof radiation received and the area receiving it. Reactions such as skin problems will appear during radiation therapy and subside in about one month.
Treatment of Side Effects
There are guidelines that your nurse will give you regarding skin care during radiation therapy. If you follow these measures, skin side effects will be greatly reduced or prevented. Some of these guidelines include carefully examining your skin for redness, pain and dry or moist peeling of the skin. Avoiding all soaps, perfumes, and deodorants is advised. The best thing to wash with is tepid water. Moisturizing lotions such as Aloe Vera lotion or Eucera lotion should be applied to the radiated area three times daily, after daily treatments. Other precautions include avoiding over exposure to the sun, wind, and cold. Radiation therapy has many positive outcomes in the management of cancer pain. The benefits of radiation in controlling pain caused by cancer out weigh the side effects in that you will be able to have quality of living restored to you.