One of the benefits of technological advancements is improved quality of life. Medical breakthroughs through which many illnesses have been demystified and their effects mitigated can mostly be attributed to improvements in technology. It is now possible to operate on a patient’s inner body without having to cut the body open. Similarly, many other diseases now have cures, while others, even though they cannot be cured, have had their effects greatly reduced. An example of such an ailment is cancer.
Cancer has been present in all of man’s recorded history, only that the terminology used and mode of treatment has evolved over time. A major shift in the disease’s treatment approach occurred in the late 19th century with the discovery of X-rays. Before the discovery of X-rays, cancer treatment was mainly through medication, with some even describing the ailment as being without treatment. With the introduction of X rays however, more options for treatment have become available, and this is made better by the fact that both approaches compete at the advantage of the disease sufferers.
Currently, there are three recognized treatment methods, namely surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Surgery involves physical removal of the tumor while chemotherapy uses a combination of drugs to cure the disease. Radiotherapy is the use of energy generated from radiation to kill the cancer cells responsible for the disease. Within radiotherapy as well, there are developments that have led to emergence of different technologies in the area. This is indicative of the level of interest this type of treatment has generated.
The remit of this research is to explore radiotherapy’s role in the treatment of cancer. Specifically, the paper will start with x-ray, which is the most popular cancer treatment method today and then move on to explore the cyclotron technology. The paper’s interest in the cyclotron technology stems from its potential to provide better, more efficient and probably cheaper cancer treatment. X-rays History Earliest versions of X-rays were produced by a simple anode-cathode arrangement that led to streams of energetic electrons being accelerated between two oppositely charged electrodes.
Production of these rays at the time was done by accelerating the electrons across a high potential field then bombarding them on a target. A simple X-ray arrangement, at the time, consisted of an airtight vessel that had both the anode and the cathode. The anode (positively charged electrode) was placed between the cathode and the target such that it accelerates the electrons produced by the cathode thereby having them hit the target at high velocity. X-rays’ production was achieved by the action of the electrons hitting the target at high velocity.
A basic set up for production of X-rays is shown below: Fig. 1 Source: (e-radiography) Current technology A lot of changes have occurred since then. The first X-ray tubes were low power tubes that yielded relatively weak X-rays. In addition, the actions of the electrons hitting the target mostly led to the generation of excess heat, which led to targets overheating most of the time. It was such and other shortcomings that subsequent developments sought to reduce. How modern X-rays are produced The basic concept of X-ray production is based on deceleration of charged particles by a suitable target.
In terms of wavelength, X-rays are characterized as having a wavelength greater than gamma rays, but lower than that of visible light. According to (Hajian, 2005), a wave’s energy is inversely proportional to the wavelength, meaning that an X-ray has lesser energy than that of a gamma ray but greater than the visible light. Similarly, frequency is inversely proportional to wavelength, and for that reason, the position of the X-ray in relation to the gamma rays and visible light can also be determined from that.
The basic components in the production of an X-ray are a high voltage generation unit, an evacuated tube, a target and other auxiliary components such as the cooling system and the control console. Once electrons hit a target, there are four possibilities. According to (nhs, 2005), these include excitation or ionization of an outer electron, ionization then emission of an X-ray and production of bremmsstrhlung radiation, commonly known as braking radiation. Of these, the first two will lead to production of heat and are therefore insignificant to the process.
The last two process lead to the production of X-ray photons (nhs, 2005). From these, it is clear that X-rays can be either through the knocking action of electrons on atoms (ionization) or through the impact of the electrons on to a target. The X-ray process uses Tungsten as the target because being a heavy element; Tungsten tends to produce higher intensity electrons. In addition, Tungsten has a higher melting point and can thus endure the high heat that is produced by the X-rays. X-ray mechanism in curing cancer
Cancer is disease characterized by the growth of abnormal cells. Any treatment strategy will therefore be aimed at interfering with the growth of these cells because they tend to affect the normal functioning of other useful body cells. Similarly, radiation interferes with the existence of the abnormal cells. The crux of the mechanism used by radiation therapy is to interfere with the gene structure of the cancer cells, and in the process inhibit their ability to reproduce and/or interfere with the functioning of other body cells.
Objectives of radiotherapy can be summarized as destruction of localized tumors, reinforcement of chemotherapy or surgical treatments and reduction of the cancer cells before one undergoes surgery. Within radiotherapy, X-ray fall within the class known as external beam therapy. In external beam therapy, a beam (or beams) of X-rays are directed from outside the patient’s body and move through the skin on to the targeted body part. A patient undergoing this kind of therapy is more likely to be exposed to a larger quantity of X-rays because of the rays are applied from outside the body and are thus less target sensitive.
3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT) and Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) are examples of external beam therapy. It the commonly used method where a patient is placed under an X-ray emitting machine and with the help of trained personnel the machine aims a stream of X-rays on to targeted areas of a patient’s body. An alternative to this method is known as internal beam therapy, which works by having radioactive material being placed or implanted in the tumorous cells. Benefits of using X-rays The high proportion of patients undergoing X-ray radiation therapy is a pointer to the possible benefits of using the therapy.
According to (Koreaittimes, 2007), 50% of patients suffering from cancer worldwide are undergoing radiotherapy, and in that percentage; radiotherapy X-rays are still the most popular. To understand the advantages and disadvantages of X-ray therapy, it would be helpful to look at it in comparison with other available therapies, lest the comparison becomes hollow. The table below provides a summary of the characteristics of related to different particles used in radiotherapy from which the advantages and disadvantages of each can be deduced.