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Difference Between Radiation and Chemotherapy

Radiation vs Chemotherapy

The Difference between Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy


Side Effects Of Chemotherapy

Cancer is still one of the leading causes of the death or mortality. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 100 different kinds of cancer and 30% of these are actually preventable by living a healthy lifestyle and proper or timely immunization. It is also a disease that does not discriminate. It affects people from all walks of life – young or old, rich or poor, male or women. It is a tremendous burden not just for the patients, themselves, but also for their friends and family and generally the people around them.

Scientific research has been going through great lengths to find a cure for cancer. Without a definitive cure, palliative care can be given to those afflicted with the disease in order to at least in one way or another alleviate their pain and suffering. Two of the most common ways to treat cancer that most oncologists recommend are Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy. Let us try to differentiate them from each other.

Chemotherapy vs. Radiation Therapy


Radiation Therapy

Definition Refers to the use of drugs or chemicals to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. Refers to the use of high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells.
Method Cytotoxic anti-neoplastic drugs X-rays, gamma rays, and charged particles are types of radiation used for cancer treatment.
How is it administered?
  • Injection

The chemotherapy is given by a shot in a muscle in your arm, thigh, or hip or right under the skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or belly.

  • Intra-arterial (IA)

The chemotherapy goes directly into the artery that is feeding the cancer.

  • Intraperitoneal (IP)

The chemotherapy goes directly into the peritoneal cavity (the area that contains organs such as your intestines, stomach, liver, and ovaries).

  • Intravenous (IV)

The chemotherapy goes directly into a vein.

  • Topically

The chemotherapy comes in a cream that you rub onto your skin.

  • Orally

The chemotherapy comes in pills, capsules, or liquids that you swallow.

  • The radiation may be delivered by a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy).
  • Systemic radiation therapy uses radioactive substances, such as radioactive iodine, that travel in the blood to kill cancer cells.
When is it given?
  • Neo-adjuvant therapy

Chemotherapy given before surgery or radiotherapy to shrink the tumor.

  • Adjuvant therapy

Chemotherapy used to help destroy any cancer cells that may remain after surgery or radiotherapy. The aim is to reduce the likelihood of cancer returning in the future.

  • Peri-operative therapy

Chemotherapy given both before and after surgery.

  • Chemoradiation

Chemotherapy combined with radiotherapy.

  • Palliative chemotherapy

If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the chemotherapy drugs carried in your bloodstream can reach these cancer cells. The aim is to help relieve symptoms and slow the growth of the cancer.

  • Curative Radio Therapy, which is sometimes called radical treatment, aims to give long-term benefits to people. Sometimes radiotherapy is given alone or with conjunction with other treatment.
  • Radiotherapy may be given before surgery to shrink a tumor or after surgery to stop the growth of cancer cells that may remain. It can also be given before, during or after chemotherapy or hormone treatment to improve overall results.
  • Palliative radiotherapy aims to shrink tumors and reduce pain or relieve other cancer symptoms. Palliative radiotherapy may also prolong life.
Side Effects The side effects of Chemotherapy depend on the type of drug used, the dosage, and a child’s overall health. These effects are more likely to affect the whole body.

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Skin rashes, redness, and other types irritation
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Abdominal pains
  • Temporary nerve damage, which can result in burning, numbness, or tingling in the hands and feet.
  • Nausea, and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation or diarrhea

* Medications are available to prevent or alleviate a lot of these symptoms

Radiation Therapy side effects tend to be more limited to the area that is being treated. However, they do still depend on the dose of radiation given, the location on the body, and whether the radiation was internal or external.

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Skin problems: dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling. These issues are usually resolved a few weeks after treatment has finished. If skin damage from radiation treatment becomes a serious problem, the doctor may change the dose or schedule of treatments.

*In addition to the general side effects described above, some side effects of radiation therapy depend on where the radiation is given.

  • Head and neck: include dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, mouth and gum sores, stiffness in the jaw, nausea, and a type of swelling called lymphedema. In addition, tooth decay may occur.
  • Chest: may include difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, breast or nipple soreness, and shoulder stiffness. Some people may develop a cough, fever, and fullness of the chest that is diagnosed as radiation pneumonitis.
  • Stomach and abdomen: may include nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. These symptoms will likely disappear when treatment is completed.
  • Pelvis: Side effects from radiation to the pelvic area may include diarrhea, rectal bleeding, incontinence, bladder irritation, and sexual problems in both men and women.

Radiation therapy to the pelvis can also affect the reproductive system. Some women receiving high doses of radiation therapy may stop menstruating and experience symptoms of menopause, such as vaginal itching, burning, and dryness.

Permanent infertility (the inability to conceive a child or maintain a pregnancy) can occur, but generally only if both ovaries receive radiation.

Men receiving radiation therapy to the testes or to nearby organs, such as the prostate, will have lower sperm counts and reduced sperm activity, which affects fertility.

Both methods are used in the treatment of cancer and both can cause systemic side effects. They are either given separately or in conjunction with each other depending on the type and severity of the disease. It is still best to consult your doctor and do a full body work up to see what methods works best and decide on the course of action.

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1 Comment

  1. Many of the facts in this article are blatantly misleading is not down right false.
    1.) Cancer is not solely based upon lifestyle, heredity plays a role as well.
    2.) Radiation is not administered 100% outside the body, there are forms that are administered directly during surgical intervention, such as special Gamma Knife procedures, Brachytherapy – the placement of radioactive pellets being implanted in the body; such as for prostrate cancer.
    3.) Chemotherapy is not normally administered in the patients home, unless specialized medical professionals, with the proper equipment are present at all times.
    Please get your facts straight before posting something as useless and misleading regarding Chemotherapy and radiation therapy on your site.

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