Radiation as a cancer treatment has been used for decades. It is promoted to cancer patients as either a primary or secondary treatment of necessity for killing malignant tumors. One must be educated on the possible negative effects of radiation and the increase risk of death from radiation-induced causes so that a properly informed decision can be made.
From an Oxford University study dealing with breast cancer, it was found that women who received radiation had an increased risk of death from heart attacks because their hearts had been weakened by the therapy. Radiation also weakens the immune system and can lead to death from secondary causes like pneumonia. Many patients die from their cancer treatment, but have the side effects, such as heart failure or pneumonia, being the recorded cause of death. This is why cancer statistics can be misleading. From the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast Project, it was stated that from the data available, post-operative irradiation has provided no advantage to patients.
Radiation therapy to the abdominal/pelvis may cause nausea, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Blood counts can be decreased by radiation therapy, especially white blood cells and platelets. Lymphedema or swelling may also occur in the legs. Bowel obstructions or ulcers can also occur due to radiation.
The rectum is the area most affected by pelvic irradiation for treatment of the prostate, cervical and colon cancer. Acute symptoms are evident with diarrhea, urinary urgency, hemorrhoids or rectal bleeding and fatigue. Pelvic irradiation can also cause ulceration, severe bleeding, stricture or narrowing of the rectum, severe incontinence and fistula. A fistula is an opening between the rectum and the skin, forming an alternative pathway for the excretion of fecal material. Fistulas also can form between the rectum and the vagina causing fecal material to enter into the vagina.
In a study following 6,428 women that were diagnosed with pelvic malignancies, researchers compared women who did and did not receive radiation therapy. Women who underwent radiation therapy were more likely to have a pelvic fracture than women who did not undergo radiation therapy. Researchers concluded up to a 200% increase in hip fracture rates following radiation treatment for pelvic cancers. Fracturing a hip leads to death in approximately 20% of those affected.
The lung is one of the most radiosensitive organs, yet is often radiated due to cancer of the esophagus, breast or lymphatic system. Common radiation effects in the lung become evident about three months after radiotherapy, with congestion, cough and shortness of breath, fever and chest pain caused by inflammation of the lungs. This inflammation can lead to scarring of the lung tissue and permanently decreased lung function.
One of the most important factors to consider before choosing radiation therapy is to understand the basis of how cancer grows. Cancer is formed from a base cell called the cancer stem cell. These cancer stem cells make up approximately 2% of any malignant tumor. These cancer stem cells produce all the other cancer cells so in essence they are likened to the queen bee in the beehive. Radiation does not kill cancer stem cells. Whatever non-stem cancer cells the radiation does kill, these cells will be replaced by the cancer stem cell. This means at most the radiation therapy will temporarily shrink a tumor but it inevitably will grow back as the cancer stem cells replace the non-cancer stem cells that were destroyed from the radiation. This is an important fact to consider knowing that radiation and chemotherapy do not “cure” cancer but instead they temporarily slow down its growth. This is when other non-toxic natural therapies can be done in conjunction with the chemotherapy and radiation to increase the rate of healing.
Another option is to have alternative cancer treatment in conjunction with chemotherapy to decrease the need for additional radiation therapy. Natural alternative cancer treatment enables the body to heal from the toxic effects of the chemotherapy, while boosting the immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells.
As observed, there are many possible side effects that can be associated with radiation therapy. Most side effects have a major impact on the patients’ day to day activities and can impede their daily functions. Knowing that radiation can cause debilitating side effects, permanent tissue damage and can induce an increased risk of death, a cancer patient should decide if the potential benefits outweigh the risk.