CUP and radiation

Read the following context of the article to learn how does radiation help in treating CUP.

Radiation Therapy

In this case, cancer treatment is done by using strong energy rays that destroy the cancerous cells causing less harm to the normal cells. Radiation may also slow down the growth rate of such cancerous cells. If you have CUP, your doctor will recommend you to undertake radiation therapy. This treatment mainly concentrates on the body part where you have developed cancer, and the treatment may help relieve the symptoms or even cure cancer in the specified affected area. Radiation therapy may be combined with other treatments such as surgery to effectively cure cancer (to remove the remaining cancer cells after surgery).

Signs and symptoms such as pain, bleeding, blocking of the intestines, contraction of the blood vessels and nerves, as well as pain in the bones, may also be relieved by radiation therapy.

There are Two Common Types of Radiation Therapy:

External Radiation Therapy

In this case, the radiation beam is focused on the affected part (cancerous part of the body) by use of an external radiation machine. Doctors carefully regulate the beam so that the right amount is used and the particular target (exact location of cancer) is hit. External radiotherapy can cause harm to the normal body cells as the beam will surpass other body tissues. To avoid this, doctors give radiation in the exact dose and try to hit the target as precise as possible.

This type of radiation therapy can damage the harmful cancerous cells but also the normal cells, which will, however, after the damage has occurred, be able to recover. This treatment follows the similar practice of that of X- rays, with the major distinction being the intensity of the beam. The advantages of using external radiation therapy may include: a relatively shorter time for the patient to be treated, though preparing the set up (assembling where radiation therapy takes place) may take a considerably longer time, it will most certainly not make you radioactive. Also, external radiation causes no pain to the patient. In this way, the treatment method is beneficial for curing CUP.

Internal Radiation Therapy

It is also referred to as brachytherapy or interstitial radiation. In this case, a radioactive substance (liquid) is brought into contact with cancerous organs, or as close as possible. The radiation material, through diffusion, moves at fewer intervals. The substance may temporarily or permanently remain in the body. Internal radiation therapy is mostly used in CUP if cancer has extensively spread to the bones.

In some cases, both external radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy may be employed simultaneously.

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy 

Also known as IMRT is a 3-dimensional radiation therapy, which uses a computer to take pictures of the size and shape of the tumor. The therapy has thin rays of radiation of varying strength directed at the tumor from different angles.

Palliative Radiotherapy 

As mentioned above, palliative radiotherapy helps to reduce the symptoms and is given in shorter intervals, which also reduces the side effects. Palliative is mostly used to reduce pain, breathlessness, difficulty swallowing, bleeding and brain swelling.

Through radiotherapy the cancer cells get reduced in size, thus reducing the pressure which causes significant pain to the patient. If cancer has affected your lungs, radiotherapy will help to alleviate breathlessness. If the cancer is in the esophagus, radiation can make swallowing easier by reducing or shrinking cancer. Cancer of the bowel, cervix or womb usually causes bleeding; through radiotherapy, bleeding can be stopped or controlled. Cancer to the brain causes swelling, which radiotherapy may help relieve.

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy 

These may be largely determined by the radiation dosage and the response of the cancerous part of treatment. Here are some of the side effects of radiation therapy in the treatment of CUP:

May result in fatigue and loss of appetite

In the case of external radiation, the radiation beams may cause burns or a tan, similar to that of exposure to the sun, and even loss of hair at the point where the beam was administered.

Radiation therapy on delicate sites such the head or neck can result in adverse damaging of vital tissues or organs around these areas. Such organs may include the salivary glands, which produces saliva and thyroid glands which produce thyroid hormones

When radiation is carried out on the stomach, the intestine may be damaged. Also, one may see symptoms of diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting

Chest radiation may result in lung malfunctioning which can lead to shortness of breath.

Before doctors can settle on any radiation method, the side effects are comprehensively analyzed so as to ascertain ways of minimizing them, if not eliminating the risk factors.

Dr. Adem Gunes
Dr. Abdullah El-Hossami