Radiation Treatment: Safe and Effective for Patients

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by Thomas A. Buchholz, M.D., FACR,  professor and chair, Department of Radiation Oncology and Michael Gillin, Ph.D., FACR professor, Department of Radiation Physics

Radiation treatment plays a critical role in managing cancer, and advances in radiation oncology have been significant and steady since its first clinical application more that 65 years ago.  Those of us who specialize in harnessing x-ray and proton energy for the benefit of patients understand the paramount responsibility of safety.

Patients who have received or are currently undergoing radiation treatment know it is not a picnic. It can be a daunting experience with the large equipment, the rigorous daily routines of coming into the clinic for four or six weeks and the lingering side effects that often occur.  Patients' clinical teams of radiation oncologists, therapists, nurses and so many others can go a long way in dispelling fears and easing those side effects.

It would be a tragedy for patients, who stand to benefit from radiation therapy, do not take it because of fear stemming from the recent articles in The New York Times.

The Radiation Boom, New York Times
When Radiation Treatment Turns Deadly, New York Times Well Blog

Understandably, patients don't see the expert teams of highly specialized, PhD-level medical physicists, certified dosimetrists and experienced computer specialists who work closely with the patient care teams making sure that equipment is properly commissioned and calibrated at every use, that radiation treatment plans are safe and properly directed,  and that therapists are proficient in the delivery of each patient's customized radiation plan.  

At M. D. Anderson and across our specialty, such diligence has paid off.  Radiation therapy can have a curative effect for many types of solid tumors, including those of the breast and prostate, two of the most common cancers diagnosed today.  Furthermore, industry statistics indicate that harmful accidents occur only .00001% of the time.

Patients and their families should inform themselves of the treatment process and talk to their care teams when they have concerns or questions.  But they also can take heart in knowing that specialized teams at work every day, on site, doing their jobs and doing them exceptionally well at M. D. Anderson, our community satellite centers, proton therapy center, and at most hospitals in the United States.

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