Modern science has evolved to the extent that a diagnosis of cancer is no longer a death sentence. Treatment options like chemotherapy and radiation target the cancerous cells in different ways to destroy them and prevent them from dividing anymore. As expected from intensive treatments, there are associated side effects to both. If you have been wondering about chemotherapy vs radiation, you can take an informed decision after doing a lot of research and talking extensively with your Doctors.
We have tried to answer the various questions that must be running through your mind at such a time. Are chemotherapy and radiation therapy the same thing? Which is harder on the body chemo or radiation? Let us understand each before comparing the pros and cons of chemotherapy vs radiation therapy for breast cancer or other kinds of cancer.
Are Chemotherapy And Radiation Therapy The Same Thing? Well – no
How Does Chemotherapy Work?
Chemotherapy is a treatment method where different cytostatic drugs are used to kill or inhibit the rapidly dividing cancerous cells. You maybe given various different combinations of these drugs depending on your prognosis, type and stage of cancer. Chemotherapy drugs travel through the entire body killing fast dividing cells wherever they encounter it.
What is Radiation Therapy?
Radiation therapy utilises the latest technology to target beams of radiation to kill the cancerous cells in the regions that they occur. This is a localised method of treatment around the organ that is affected with cancer. It aims to damage the DNA of the cells in the targeted area.
Which is Harder on The Body Chemo or Radiation?
While the choice between chemotherapy and radiation may not always be yours to make, there are general indicators as to what each treatment may be suited to.
Chemotherapy usually, is given to patients after surgery to prevent reoccurrence, before surgery to shrink tumors, or when the cancer has spread. Typically, it is used in leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin disease, multiple myeloma and sarcoma, as well as lung, breast and ovary cancers.
Radiation is normally chosen in cancers involving breast, cervical or pelvic, perianal or prostate regions. It transmits high doses of rays to the cancer cells thus obliterating them.
Chemo vs Radiation - Side Effects
Chemo works by targeting all dividing cells through our body. The advantage to this is that they target cells that may have spread to other organs or sites as well. Also, since the drugs can be taken in through IV, or injection, or orally, one can usually choose to have it at the hospital or at home, depending the Doctors approval.
The disadvantage, however, is that there are other cells in our body like the cells of hair and digestive system, that also divide rapidly. The drugs cannot recognise the difference and impact these as well. Thus, during chemotherapy, one often experiences side effects like hair loss and digestive issues like intense nausea. They also target blood cells in the bone marrow causing anemia and bruising. Some intense doses may affect cells in organs like the heart and liver also.
This method aims at reducing the number of cancer cells by targeting only the specific part of the body where the cancer has occurred. Thus, the number of healthy cells that are destroyed are minimised and restricted to the area receiving radiation. Also, the treatment is painless and for a short duration of the radiation.
Since it is localised to the region immediately affected by cancer, if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body then they are not targeted by the treatment. This leaves the body open to the risk of cancer in other parts or organs. The exposed area can develop blisters and become sensitive in often used areas like the anus. This can be very painful.
An additional footnote on radiation as it seems like a less painful alternative. One needs to be sure that the cancer is localised and not spread out before relying on radiation.
When is Radiation Appropriate in Breast Cancer?
Except for pregnant women, for whom radiation is a big no-no, it is very effective for stage 0 to III of breast cancer after lumpectomy or mastectomy. This is especially recommended if the Doctor feels that there are any remnants of the cancer cells at the site or in the surrounding lymph nodes.
Radiation is usually less painful and has less side effects, chemotherapy may be more thorough. Individual experiences with each vary. Choose what is best for you and your type of cancer, in consultation with the medical experts. Whichever you choose, do remember that the discomfort is temporary and is a means to getting you healthy. A positive mind is half the battle against cancer won!