Radiation therapy (RT) may be seen as an effective method in treating cancer, but it comes at a high cost. New research shows that RT does not just kill brain tumors, but even the healthy tissue surrounding them, causing significant damage in the brains of patients.
The study was done by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and published in Brain Connectivity. It found that being exposed to radiation can change the structural networks of the brain, ScienceDaily.com reported. This leads to impaired brain function that is all too often observed in patients who have undergone brain RT.
“RT is a mainstay of brain tumor treatment,” said the study’s lead author Naeim Bahrami. “Unfortunately, a side effect can be incidental irradiation of normal brain tissue and radiation-induced injury, which have been linked to impairment of brain function. As patient outcomes improve, a major concern is managing long-term complications, including cognitive decline and disability.”
Building on previous research that found that RT causes cortical atrophy in certain regions of the brain, the researchers made use of elaborate mathematical models to further examine the effects of RT on patients. The study focused on 54 patients with brain tumors. The thickness of their brain cortex before and after RT was estimated using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The researchers’ findings showed that RT caused the brain cortex to thin at a faster rate than that of Alzheimer’s disease. RT was also seen to have caused a greater separation between regions of the brain that need to work together to carry out important functions such as memory-making and recall.
The research highlighted the need to further improve the process of RT to minimize, if not eliminate, the damaging side effects, or, better yet, come up with an alternative, non-harmful treatment altogether.
Radiation therapy: Worth the side effects?
Brain function impairment is an RT side effect that is specific to brain cancer patients. People who have other types of cancer may experience different side effects depending on the parts of the body that were exposed to radiation. Many of them are so painful or debilitating that they require additional doses of other medicines to manage or treat. They also compromise the lifestyle and outlook of cancer patients.
According to Cancer.net, those who received RT for cancers in the head and neck area may experience dry mouth, mouth and gum sores, difficulty swallowing, jaw stiffness, nausea, swelling the arms and legs (lymphedema), and tooth decay.
At the same time, those whose chest area were exposed to RT may experience shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, soreness of breasts or nipples, and shoulder stiffness. It can also lead to radiation pneumonitis, a condition characterized by cough, fever, and fullness of the chest. Untreated, radiation pneumonitis can result in radiation fibrosis, which is a permanent scarring of the lungs.
Pelvic RT may cause inconvenient and painful side effects, including diarrhea, rectal bleeding incontinence, and bladder irritation. It can also compromise sexual performance and fertility in both men and women.
Meanwhile, other RT side effects can be expected across the board, no matter which part of the body the radiation was targeted at. Common RT side effects include skin problems (wherein the skin becomes dry, itchy, and blistery), fatigue, and long-term side effects such as the development of a second cancer.
Read up on how to prevent cancer the natural way on AntiCancer.news.