Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy (also called radiation therapy) uses high-energy radiation, e.g., photon or particle radiation, to eliminate or shrink localized tumors.71 The radiation damages the DNA of cancer cells, blocking their ability to divide and proliferate. Unfortunately, the surrounding normal cells are also affected and, to protect them, radiation treatments are spread over time. This strategy (termed fractionation) tries to minimize the damage to normal tissue by allowing cells to be repaired during the time between treatments. The different repair rate between normal and cancer cells means that only a small fraction of malignant cells, which have a lower recovery rate, will have been repaired by the time of the next treatment. Ideally the vast majority of (or indeed all) cancer cells will be dead after the last treatment session. As an alternative to external beam therapy, until now the most traditional way to deliver radiation, radioisotopes (e.g., cesium-137 or iodine-125) can be implanted near the tumor allowing the delivery of radiation to localized areas. This mode of therapy is particularly useful for cancers where surgery or beam therapy would be detrimental to tissues surrounding the tumor (e.g., prostate or cervical cancer).

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