Radiotherapy gaining greater importance


Dr Low says adaptive radiotherapy allows oncologists to adjust the radiation dose and target volume to increase the accuracy of treatment.

RADIOTHERAPY in treating cancer, particularly head and neck cancers, is gaining more importance as it becomes more targeted, with specialists in this field focused on reducing the patient’s side effects during treatment.

StarMetro recently spoke to clinical oncologist Dr John Low who provided insights on how radiation therapy was one of the three main methods in treating cancer.

“Various forms of high energy ionising radiation have been successfully harnessed in the past 100 years to treat cancers.

“The most frequently used is high energy X-rays and gamma radiation which can penetrate deep into the tissue to kill off the cancer cells.

“The improvement of imaging and tracking technologies, radiation physics and engineering has allowed oncologists to identify the target, track the movements and direct precise doses of high energy radiation to eliminate the cancer cells,” he revealed.

Dr Low said the process of delivering this high energy treatment requires teamwork with good physics and engineering support.

“The availability of the various medical sub-specialties and ancillary support cannot be overemphasised to provide the best possible care for patients,” he said.

According to him, the most talked-about now is adaptive radiotherapy in treating nose cancer, which allows oncologists to adjust the radiation dose and target volume based on changes in the size, shape and position of the tumour during treatment.

“This is achieved through frequent imaging scans that provide detailed information about the tumour and surrounding tissues.

“By adapting the radiation dose and target volume, doctors can increase the accuracy of the treatment and reduce the side effects,” said Dr Low, who is attached to Sunway Medical Centre and is also the Sunway Cancer Centre senior consultant and clinical director.He said radiation therapy could be used as the sole treatment or in combination to treat various cancers.

“It is also used widely to relieve cancer patients from symptoms of pain, bleeding and obstruction. Aside from surgery, it is the second most important treatment in achieving clearance of cancer,” he added.

Dr Low said the success rate of radiotherapy for head and neck cancers, specifically, was very good.

“The most common type of head and neck cancer in Malaysia is nasopharyngeal cancer, or commonly known as nose cancer.

“It is the fifth most common cancer in Malaysian males and the ninth most common cancer in females.

“If it is Stage 1 nose cancer, just with radiotherapy alone, we can achieve more than a 90% clearance rate; it is even higher with the modern techniques we have now in Malaysia,” he said.

The advantage of radiation therapy for head and neck cancer is organ preservation, avoiding surgery and potentially improving the quality of life, he elaborated.

For certain cancers that are more advanced in the head and neck region, Dr Low said radiation therapy could be used in combination with surgery and chemotherapy to increase cancer clearance rates and prevent recurrences.

“Greater understanding of cancer biology and how various mutations and the immune system interact with high energy radiation has brought new insight into combining radiotherapy with various cancer drugs.

“Studies are ongoing to test the synergistic effect of radiation with targeted therapies and immunotherapies. The future is promising for cancer patients,” he added.

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