When we think about cancer treatments, we’re likely to generate mental images of hair loss, muscle wasting and other serious side effects. Researchers have long been on the hunt for effective ways to beat cancer without adding to patients’ distress, but chemo and radiation both often lead to devastating, sometimes even deadly, complications. A new technique could offer all the benefits of traditional radiation treatment with only a fraction of the side effects. We have the details on what this incredible breakthrough could mean for countless cancer patients.
Most forms of radiation therapy involve irradiating tumors in heavy doses, which destroys the cells and shrinks targeted areas. During these treatments, healthy tissue can also become exposed, leaving patients with uncomfortable side effects. Most commonly, radiation recipients experience fatigue and changes to the exposed skin, but they can also develop nausea, swelling, hair loss and other uncomfortable symptoms.
Current treatments include some options that are designed to minimize these effects:
These options are designed to reduce exposure, but they can still put healthy tissue at risk and trigger side effects. But there's been a breakthrough that we thought was pretty exciting.
A recent breakthrough called FLASH radiation therapy could offer the benefits of many of the above treatments without adding new symptoms. Designed to reduce the serious side effects of irradiating the brain, this new technique uses broader, single bursts of exposure lasting less than one-tenth of a second rather than longer, more concentrated beams.
Studies on mice have shown this approach doesn’t lead to the same degree of neurocognitive effects many patients experience after having radiation treatments to the brain. The quick pulse is less damaging to healthy cells, but it appears to be just as effective as other treatments at shrinking tumors.
FLASH radiation therapy could change doctors’ entire approach to cancer treatment. This technique is still in the experimental stages, but according to ScienceDaily, the technology has been used to treat lung, intestinal and skin cancers, and already one human subject has been successfully treated using it. If all goes well, radiation cancer therapy could soon be faster, less painful and result in far fewer risks of complications.
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