Radiation Therapy for Cancer: Fear Unfounded

“Radiation therapy is painless, no different from getting an x-ray. The duration of a course varies depending on the patient’s condition. Prostate cancer may require eight weeks, whereas breast cancer might need six weeks, and lung cancer six to seven weeks. Radiation therapy is spread out over a long period to ensure that the patient’s healthy cells are less damaged by the radiation.” These are the caring words of Assist. Prof. Dr. Sunantha Srisubut-Ploysongsang, who always strives to ensure that patients endure as few side effects as possible, and return to living their lives free of cancer.
 

Finding the best approach for the patient

 
A longer course of radiation therapy means less impact on the patient. The length of treatment is determined by the type of cancer. Dr. Sunantha, a radiation oncologist and radiologist at Horizon Regional Cancer Center of Bumrungrad Hospital, told us “Radiation therapy is painless, no different from getting an x-ray. The duration of a radiation therapy course varies, depending on the patient’s condition. Prostate cancer may require eight weeks, whereas breast cancer might need six weeks, and lung cancer six to seven weeks. Radiation therapy is spread out over a long period to ensure that the patient’s healthy cells are less damaged by the radiation.”
 
Dr. Sunantha added that “sometimes patients do request higher doses of radiation because they want to get this part of the treatment over with. But we cannot do that. We have to consider the patient’s quality of life after treatment as well.”
 
“We always counsel our patients about the side effects prior to the treatment, so that the patients know what to expect. They may experience pain in the mouth or neck, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, or weight loss. The doctor can advise on how to mitigate these side effects or refers patient to a nutritionist or a dietitian for a consultation visit.”
 
Radiation therapy uses a high-powered radiation beam directed at the cancer cells in the body. Dr. Sunantha, who has been at the Horizon Cancer Center for 23 years explained her procedure, “I always start by interviewing the patients and taking their history. For example, with lung cancer patients I will ask whether they are short of breath, whether they are coughing, is there a fever present. Because all of the symptoms are connected and can lead to infection or inflammation.”
 
“In addition, we must know precisely the location and the size of the tumor, and whether or not there is a bleeding. For example, most breast cancer patients understandably opt for breast conservation in their treatment. For this approach to be successful, removal of the tumor and lymph nodes must be followed up with radiation therapy. We need to determine the stage of the cancer and have other treatment options prepared as contingencies for any complications which may occur.”
 

Care that goes beyond treatment

 
As a professional with deep experience in cancer diagnosis and radiation therapy, Dr. Sunantha has found that the best approach lies in building trust and goodwill with the patient. For the best results, the patient need to be confident in the treatment. “I often invite medical oncologists to review the films with me in front of the patient. We openly discuss and diagnose the patient’s condition with the full involvement of the patient, who can freely ask questions and observe our reasoning process. This works wonders in reducing fear and anxiety surrounding treatment for the patient.”
Dr. Sunantha recounted some of the misunderstandings that patients often have about radiation therapy. “Some genuinely believes that radiation therapy would be something like a nuclear explosion,” Dr. Sunantha laughed. “They really thought that there would be a big bang, and that it would really hurt. It’s not like that at all! I often invite their relatives to attend the treatment planning sessions so that they can help to remember the things that I tell the patient. Patients are going through so much that they’re not very good at remembering all the details.” Dr. Sunantha also takes care to constantly ask the patients about their feelings, to sound out their anxiety and ensure that they themselves are consciously aware of what is occurring to them. “It’s my way of telling them that we care, that we are paying attention to them.” 
 

Cured of cancer with minimal impact

 
“Good cancer treatment involves many things coming together, including technology. For example, the use of VMAT allows us to be very precise with the radiation dose as a tumor often has an irregular dimension. The machine circles the patient and when it detects cancer it will fire a high dose of radiation to that area. For other areas, the radiation will be significantly less, if at all. This keeps the overall dose of radiation at a minimum.”


“The patient’s state of mind is absolutely key. Keeping stress and anxiety at bay is so important for successful treatment. Bumrungrad Hospital staff members are some of the very best healthcare professionals anywhere. At Horizon, the patient can rest assured that they have a winning team on their side.”
 
And that is Assist. Prof. Dr. Sunantha Srisubut-Ploysongsang’s principles of cancer treatment: to minimize the treatment’s negative impact on patients’ lives, and send them on a path back to a good quality life as soon as possible.
 

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