Over time, there could be long-term effects of radiation exposure that may include:
- Loss of white blood cells
- A reduction in platelets
- Fertility problems
- Changes in kidney function
Fetuses and children are at particular risk of radiation sickness because their cells divide rapidly, and radiation can disrupt that process. There is also some correlation between excess radiation exposure and an increased risk of cancer. Although the risk is certainly higher when a person is exposed to a large amount of radiation at one time, the cumulative effects of low radiation can’t be ignored.
What is radiation?
Radiation is the energy that travels as a wave or particle.
- Radiation can be categorized into non-ionizing or ionizing depending on the radiated particle’s energy.
- Radioactive materials that emit α, β, or γ radiation are the common sources of ionizing radiation.
- Visible light, microwaves, and infrared light are the common sources of non-ionizing radiation.
- Both types of radiation are harmful to health, but ionizing radiation is more so.
- About half of the ionizing radiation we're exposed to comes from nature. It's in rock, soil, and the atmosphere.
- The other half comes from man-made sources such as medical tests and treatments and nuclear power plants.
- There is always a risk of damage to the cells or tissue from being exposed to any amount of ionizing radiation. Over time, exposure to radiation may cause cancer and other health problems.
Different types of radiation include:
What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is a common oncologic treatment modality utilizing ionizing radiation to control or eliminate the malignant cells. Radiotherapy may be used alone or synergistically with chemotherapy or immunotherapy. The type of radiation therapy used depends on the disease and specific type of cancer being treated.
Radiotherapy plays a part in
- Primary curative treatment (head and neck cancer).
- Adjuvant therapy (reducing the recurrence rate after local breast cancer surgery).
- Palliation of cancer symptoms (reducing pain from bone metastases).
- Treating non-malignant disease such as Graves’ thyroiditis and keloid scarring.
- Nearly two-thirds of all patients with cancer who receive radiation therapy.
There are no good estimates of how many of these patients will develop complications due to radiation therapy. Common general side effects of radiation therapy:
- Ulcers in the mouth and stomach
- Nausea and vomiting
- Radiation dermatitis/Erythema
- Hair loss
- Low blood cell count
- Skin rash or sores
- Kidney damage
- Liver damage
The reason radiation therapy works is that it damages the DNA of the cells. Rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, are more affected by radiation therapy than normal cells. The body may respond to this damage with fibrosis or scarring, although this is generally a mild process and typically does not cause any long-term problems that substantially affect the quality of life.
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