Here are some things you’ll want to consider.
The prospect of radiation therapy for cancer can be daunting and even frightening. Beyond the potential for short- and long-term health complications, there’s also a substantial time commitment involved. Radiation therapy is often administered across multiple sessions per week, for multiple weeks.
In any decision about health interventions, it’s important to weigh the benefits, risks, and costs (money, time, perhaps travel, and any other quality-of-life implications).
Benefits and Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
In theory, the goal of radiation therapy is to oxidize (aka “burn”) cancer cells, while doing the least possible damage to surrounding healthy tissue. The extent to which this can be accomplished depends HIGHLY on the location of the cancer, and the method of administering radiation.
I don’t want to re-invent or retype the wheel, so if you’d like to read more about radiation therapy techniques, benefits, and general drawbacks, please refer to the web page curated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), here.
How to know if radiation therapy is right for you…
It’s one thing to understand the general benefits & risks of radiation. But how do you decide if it’s going to help YOU, specifically?
1) Trust Your Gut
First of all- and this may sound strange coming from a scientist- trust your gut. Most of us have a strong intuitive sense of what is going to be good for us. There’s a mind-body-spirit connection, and those who honor it tend to experience dramatic, even miraculous healing. I’ve seen friends and clients (and myself, I’ll be honest) ignore their intuition and pay the price, obviously not just when it comes to cancer.
2) Ask Your Doctor?
I phrased this with a question mark because- while you should ask a doctor for specific information about treatment- the information you’ll get from doctors is not always specific enough, especially when it comes to cancer treatments. This is partly because there’s not enough time for them to explain every last thing you’ll need to know. But it’s also because doctors don’t do all of your research for you.
The patients who do best are those who take time to bring themselves up to speed on treatments before agreeing to them.
3) Do Your Own Research
Some people may say, “No thanks, I’ll just trust my doctor- (s)he is the expert”.
The doctor IS an expert at prescribing medical interventions and adjusting the dose according to your changing health status. This does NOT mean the doctor knows how every medication works, or exactly how likely the therapy is to benefit you, or exactly how likely the therapy is to harm you.
If you want to know how well a therapy aligns with your health goals, then 99% of the time you will need to do some research. This is easier than you might think. It just takes time…so don’t let anyone pressure you into a hasty decision.
Potential sources of information include:
- official prescribing information
- medical & scientific journal articles and studies (search PubMed or Google Scholar)
- anecdotal- Do you know any friends who have been through something similar? Ask them what they did & how it went.
4) Things to Consider
When you’re researching, here’s what you’re looking for:
- What percentage of therapy recipients see measurable benefit?
- How much benefit do they see?
- How long does that benefit last?
- How does the therapy compare with alternative therapies?
- How does the therapy compare with doing nothing?
- What are the typical side effects?
- How common are the side effects?
- How long do the side effects last?
- How might the side effects be reduced or avoided?
- What’s the out-of-pocket expense?
Keep in mind, you’re looking for information that is specific to your type of cancer, and specific to the radiation therapy being offered. The more accurate you are in your research, the better armed you’ll be to make your best decision.
Why do I advocate private research so much?
Because I’ve watched people undergo therapies which had very little chance (as in, near zero chance) of offering noticeable benefit, yet which also carried significant risks. I’ve seen people almost lose their lives from therapies which- in all likelihood- didn’t improve their health. In all of these cases, the therapies were prescribed by a doctor. In many cases, that doctor probably did not read the prescribing information or medical studies to anticipate how the treatment would affect that specific patient. It just doesn’t happen that way. Until this changes, patients need to educate themselves and/or find outside help.
A lot of the wisdom offered in this article applies not only to radiation, but also to chemotherapy, surgery, and medical interventions for diseases other than just cancer.
Hopefully this is enough to help you figure things out and move forward with confidence!
Coaching is a huge help when you’d like a hand getting through a particularly tough decision like this. Click here to learn more / book a private session.
Wishing you the best along life’s journey,
– Brandon Novogradac
Earth Scientist, Certified Holistic Cancer Coach, Intuitive Reiki Master/Teacher