Cancer starts with one cell that loses its growth control. Normal cells divide in a highly controlled manner in order to form new cells. Cancer cells also divide and form new cells. The difference with cancer cells, however, is they don't know when they should stop dividing. They continue dividing until they have overcrowded or damaged the affected body tissue or organ. These cells continue growing excessively and because cancer cells do not grow in a capsule, some cells break away and are transported by the nodes or blood stream to other organs where they multiply; this is called a dissemination or metastasis. The effect of irradiation on the body is that the cells are damaged and eventually destroyed. The rays, however, cannot distinguish between normal and malignant cells. Cancer cells are more sensitive to irradiation than normal cells. The aim of irradiation is therefore to irradiate until the malignant cells are dead or sterilised. The normal surrounding tissue, however, is still able to recover. Cells are more sensitive in certain phases of division than in other resting phases.
THE MAIN WEAPONS
CANCER! The greatest shock is surely when the diagnosis is made, with the associated fears, disbelief and uncertainty.
Before you undergo any form of treatment, it is important to understand what it entails. The main weapons in the fight are an operation, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Which of these will be used depends on the type of cancer and how far it has progressed, if it has spread and how healthy the individual is. After a complete diagnosis, we compile a treatment programmed specifically for the patient. Sometimes, one therapy is sufficient, other times a combination of two or three are needed. With surgery the growth can often not be removed 100%. Active cancer cells can remain in the normal tissue surrounding the growth and even one is enough to allow the cancer to re-occur. Therefore, we often complement an operation with radiation and/or chemotherapy of the surrounding tissue to prevent recurrence and spreading. Solid tumours are usually first removed surgically, and then followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy.
TYPES OF TREATMENTS
Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer by means of drugs. Unlike irradiation, chemotherapy treats the entire body. It is given to kill abnormal cells, or to retard or prevent their growth.
Brachytherapy entails the insertion of radioactive seeds into the prostate gland. The specific manner of placement creates a radiation "cloud" or dose around and within the prostate gland in order to irradiate cancerous cells. This is fast becoming the treatment of choice for prostate cancer.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is in fact not a knife at all! It is a non-invasive medical technology that uses 192 invisible, intersecting Gamma ray beams of radiation to deliver a highly therapeutic dose to a target with sub-millimetre precision. It is used to treat brain tumours, vascular malformations and functional disorders.