Thursday, July 17, 2008

Does Radiation "Kill" Cancer?

I had always thought it did. I thought that the radiation went in there and 'zapped' the cancer and everything around it. I never really thought it through, but I guess in the back of my mind I figured that's why people got sicker for a time while they were being treated.

Silly me! And that from a guy with a lot of time working in the medical field including about a year as a nurse in an oncology ward. Guess I never asked... Well, now it is more important to me I suppose. In my research, I read a few things that made me question my assumptions so I had to get the right scoop before I put the information out in this blog.

I checked with Whitney and Ramon, a couple of my therapists, and then asked my doctor a few more questions. Here is my understanding as of now. Radiation, whether the standard photon radiation or the proton radiation that I've been receiving, does not "zap" the cancer. It surely could if enough was given, but then I probably wouldn't survive the treatment which, from my perspective, seems somewhat counterproductive. As Whitney put it, "If we could take your prostate and put it right there on the table, we'd just give it 8,000 Grey, (a measurement of radiation), and be done with it. The problem is you couldn't tolerate it and that's why we give fractionated doses each day."

Now, I know that a lot of you are going to be saying, "Well, DUH!!!", but another thing I didn't really know is that cancer cells are not different cells that somehow got into my body. Instead they are my own cells that have somehow gone haywire. Life is all about reproduction, right? We reproduce ourselves by having kids and cells reproduce themselves by dividing, (mitosis). Sometimes, something goes wrong in the mitotic cycle and cells begin to reproduce more rapidly and some eventually get out of control. When cell reproduction is out of control it happens faster and faster and cells don't get a chance to mature. As this goes on, you can wind up with a tumor. That's what we call cancer (in a horribly oversimplified way).

Radiation, in the dosages they give, damages the DNA of the cells in the target area. In my case the target area is my prostate. All of it, cancerous and healthy cells. As the cells try to divide, because the DNA is damaged and it does not replicate for division, the cells cannot divide. Instead they die. As this goes on, all of the cancer cells die off and the cancer is gone.

So, "Why", you ask, "doesn't everything else touched by the radiation die too?" Well, Grasshopper, that's a great question! How do I know it's great? Naturally it's because I asked the very same question.

When a 'target' is irradiated the cancerous cells and the normal tissue receive the same dose of radiation. There really isn't any way around that because you want to be sure and get to ALL of the cancer cells. In doing so you're going to hit some normal tissue along the way. The radiation affects all cells hit in the same way. It damages their DNA. The difference is that normal tissue has a much better ability to repair the damage than the cancer cells which have almost no ability to do so. Since the cancer cells, by definition, are trying to divide much more quickly than normal cells, they are not able to repair the damage and so they die off. When I asked why the cancer cells can't repair themselves, the doctor I was talking to put it this way, "Cancerous cells are not like normal cells. They are basically defective and can't do what normal cells can."

1 comment:

Spencernearn said...

Thank you this in can at the right time today to ease my Husband mind...he has reoccuring prostate cancer after a RP. This artical you wrote on Radiation eased my mind and help him understand clearer.