Chemotherapy vs. Radiotherapy

The difference between chemotherapy and radiotherapy

Both chemotherapy and radiotherapy are two commonly used treatments for cancer. They are better known as chemo and radiation. They do cure cancer in some cases or reduce the tumors so that patients can live longer, there are differences between them in the method of administration, how they affect the body and the side effects that are involved.

Even though the diagnosis of cancer is never a good one to receive, the chances of surviving today are much greater than they once were. There are many causes for this disease, both external and internal, and there are many different forms it can take. The decision to administer chemotherapy or radiotherapy as the treatment depends on the type of cancer the patient has and the stage to which the disease has progressed.

Chemicals are used in chemotherapy to attack and kill the cancer cells. The treatment is administered by IV into the bloodstream and the purpose is to change the DNA structure of the cells so that they cannot grow and reproduce more cancerous cells. The problem that this causes though is that the treatment cannot differentiate between cancerous and healthy cells and so cells that are healthy also get destroyed. This treatment can be used both before and after surgery or instead of surgery if the response is favorable. Before surgery, chemotherapy treatments are used to try to shrink the size of tumors to a size at which they can be removed safely during surgery. Sometimes this treatment is so successful that surgery is not needed. After surgery to remove cancerous tumors, patients receive chemotherapy as an insurance to kill any microscopic cells that may have been missed.

Side effects of chemotherapy include loss of hair, fatigue, darker skin color, decrease in the number of platelets in the blood and swelling of the digestive system.

Radiotherapy involves the process of using radioactive rays to penetrate to the skin to site of the tumor in the body. Even though this procedure does damage cells as well, the damage is limited to the area of the body that receives the radiation. Different parts of the body respond in different ways to this treatment. Some areas may only need a few treatments to shrink the tumor where others may require numerous treatments. Some cancers are cured very quickly in this manner.

The side effects of radiotherapy can include burning of the skin in the specific location and inflammation of the skin in this area.

The main difference between the two treatments is that chemotherapy treats the whole body with chemicals, but radiotherapy only treats a specific area of the body with radiation rays. There is also less pain associated with radiation.