Radiotherapy & Cervical Cancer – An Overview.

In some of my previous posts I wrote about cervical cancer in PNG and the options available to us to treat cancer patients. I have been an advocate for screening programs but I have decided to educate myself also on the treatment options available. The PNG Women Doctors Association have been working tirelessly to raise funds to re-establish the radiotherapy unit at Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae. I think they plan to raise about K3 million kina ($USD 1 million). They have raised K250, 000 ($USD 83, 000) for far.

What is radiotherapy?

You can read about radiotherapy here but suffice to say that radiotherapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells. It is used as part of palliative care. The goal of its use is not to provide cure but comfort and relief to cancer patients. Although there are some forms of cancers which can be cured with radiotherapy, here I am talking in the context of cervical cancer.

How does radiotherapy work?

Radiotherapy works by damaging the DNA of cancer cells. The damage is caused by a photon, electron or proton. These are small particles that make up an atom.

What about side effects?

Radiotherapy itself is painless. But because it involves the use of radiation, the harmfull of effects of radiation affects other cells of the body as well, besides the cancer cells. Its main side effects include:

  • swelling.
  • infertility.
  • fibrosis – the skin and other tissues become less elastic.
  • dryness – due to the damage of tear glands and salivary glands.
  • secondary cancers – potential to cause other forms of cancers.

How is radiotherapy given?

There are three main types of radiotherapy:

  • External beam radiation/teletherapy – radiation source is position outside the body.
  • Brachytherapy/sealed source radiotherapy – radioactive material is delivered inside the body and the source of the radiation is extracted later.
  • Unsealed source radiotherapy – the mode of delivery is the by injection or ingestion and the source is not extracted.

These is a very brief overview of radiotherapy and I hope to write more on this. Not only to help in the cause of raising the awareness of the lack of a radiotherapy unit in PNG but I think I need to educate myself on this topic as well.


About rodney itaki

Medical doctor and public health specialist from Papua New Guinea.
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