Estimates indicate India’s reported cancer incidence in 2022 to be INR 19 to 20 lakhs, whereas real incidence is 1.5 to 3 times higher than the reported cases. High proportion of cases continue to be detected at late stages for major cancer types in India. Nearly, Two Third of Cancer patients need radiotherapy Translating into 8,00,000 patients per year in india. High burden of cancer incidence in India is resulting in a high economic burden on account of productivity losses and premature mortality.
Dr Nagraj Huilgol is Chief Radiation Oncologist in Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital., Mumbai and M.D at (AIIMS). For the past 42 years, he has being working in this field.
All you need to know about radiation therapy
Dr. Nagraj Huigol informs, “Cancer is on high rise as per statistics, but not as alarming as COVID. We still need treatment with radiation therapy. Radiotherapy plays an important role for cancer treatment. More than 60% of the patients need radiotherapy at one or the other time. When I started my journey in the late 70s, the patients were sent to radiotherapy just to prevent dying but that's not anymore. Many of the early cancers can respond to radiotherapy alone and they can potentially cure and control for a long time. For instance, vocal cord issues, you do not need to operate anymore. You can just give radiotherapy.
In case of advanced cases of cancer, you need to have chemotherapy along with radiotherapy. So, there are various combinations and permutations with radiotherapy to help, cure, control and preserve function. This is important for cancer with other modalities to maximize the outcome and take care of functioning along with cosmetic outcomes of the treatment. At the end of the day, we are human beings and we like to look good as well as stay healthy.”
Difference between radiotherapy and chemotherapy
Dr Nagraj Huigol states, “Radiation therapy is based on ionizing radiation and helps in killing cancer cells. On the other hand, chemotherapy also kills cells like radiotherapy but the mechanism and mode of action is different like orally, intravenously or various other routine. They are drugs and chemicals whereas radiation is a physical modality of treatment. They are electromagnetic waves like X-rays or infrared rays and other modalities.”
Safety of radiation therapy as compared to chemotherapy
Dr. Nagraj Huigol says, “There is no comparison of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. As for treatment, both play an important role. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy plays an important role in malignancies. Sometimes, we give it alone or in combination. Radiotherapy is one of the effective physical modalities of treatment very distinct and different from other modalities of treatment. It is useful in 70% of the cancer patients to cure, control and palliate cancer.”
Radiation therapy for cure of cancer
Dr. Nagraj Huigol informs, “Things have changed and there are certain tumors like early lesions which can be taken care of with radiotherapy. Yes, of course, it can be used as a single modality for cancer treatment. It is not anymore just a palliative treatment.
40 years back, maybe yes, it was a palliative treatment. But, now with the change in technology with better understanding either single or in combination, radiotherapy can help in the cure of cancer.”
Is radiation therapy pain-free?
Dr Nagraj Huigol states, “Yes, radiation is like X-rays. There is no heat that is generated with no pain at all. It is absolutely pain-free.”
Does radiation therapy have any side effects?
Dr. Nagraj Huigol says, “Yes, depends on the site. For instance in case of abdominal cancers, there may be vomiting OR incase of bone marrow cancers, the blood count may go down. It's a site specific side effect. Most of the acute side-effects can be managed. By manipulating the way you give radiation, even the late side effects can be managed. There is no treatment in the world free of side-effects. Most of the side-effects are acceptable and treatable.”
Is radiation therapy affordable for general people?
Dr Nagraj Huigol states, “It is a little more expensive with recent technology. It's much less expensive than surgery and chemotherapy or some target therapies. It is affordable. We need to have public funding and the government should start to set up a lot more for different kinds of technology suitable for different types of towns and cities. It is affordable but you need to make it more accessible and affordable."
Edited By: Dr.Rati Parwani
Contributed By: Dr Nagraj Huigol, Chief Radiation Oncologist, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai & MD, AIIMS