Before considering any form of medical treatment, it is important to understand what it entails. For this reason we would like to provide you with some background information on the following treatment modalities.
In simple terms, radiotherapy means treatment with ionising rays; in this case with high-energy X-rays and electron beams which have various energy levels.
To understand how ionising rays work, you must first understand how cancer cells affect your body.
Cancer starts with one cell that has lost control over it’s growth. Normal cells divide in a highly controlled manner to form new cells.
Cancer cells also divide and form new cells, but at a more rapid rate. Furthermore, cancer cells do not know when to stop dividing. They keep on dividing and multiplying until they have displaced or damaged the affected body tissue or organ.
Yet these cells still continue their excessive growth and, because cancer cells do not grow within an enclosing capsule, some cells break away and are carried to the next organ by the lymph or the blood stream, and there they multiply further. This is called metastasis.
Irradiation damages and eventually destroys the cancer cells. But the rays cannot distinguish between normal and malignant cells.
The success of irradiation lies in the fact that malignant cells are more sensitive to irradiation than normal cells. The goal of irradiation is therefore to irradiate until the malignant cells have been killed or sterilised. The surrounding normal tissue is, however, still capable of complete recovery.
In certain phases of division, cells are more sensitive than in other, dormant phases. To irradiate as many of the cells as possible in the sensitive phase, the treatments are fractioned; in other words, they are spread over a period of time.
Another reason for fractionation is to give the normal cells, which recover faster than malignant cells, a chance to recuperate. (That is why you do not receive only one treatment). The sensitivity of the various types of tissue and the various organs differs, therefore the number of treatments for different diagnoses will inevitably also differ. The number of treatments prescribed bears no relation to the degree to which the cancer has advanced.
If you are to receive thirty treatments and another person only five, please do not assume that your prognosis is worse than theirs. The dose administered, the number of treatments and the specific diagnosis are very closely linked.
Irradiation is only done during the week, and may be interrupted for a day when the machine is being serviced or work is being done on the machine.
During your course of treatments you will meet other patients and you will probably compare your treatment and symptoms. It is important to understand that irradiation is used differently for the treatment of different conditions. Your irradiation and side effects may consequently differ considerably from those of another patient.
Accomodation is available for patients who live far away and who have to receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy. However, such accommodation is only available from Monday to Friday at the Wilgers, Unitas, Benoni, Vereeniging and Klerksdorp consulting rooms. Transport to the respective consulting rooms can be arranged.