It is my pleasure to be writing about Cancer Survivors Day, which is an international day marked annually on every first Sunday of June. A survivor is anyone living with, through, and beyond cancer.
Michelle C Madzudzo
I am proud to be 1 of 40 radiation therapists saving lives in Zimbabwe.
Being one of the allied health professions often forgotten by the public and media in a world where the national health system seems to consist of only doctors and nurses, the unsung heroes in the fight against cancer amid COVID-19 pandemic will continue to save lives and have more cancer success stories in the country.
Last Sunday was International Cancer Survivors Day and as radiation therapists, we reflect on how we have been working hard over the years to ensure that reliable, safe and consistent services are rendered at our institutions.
It is sad that with well-equipped state-of-the-art radiation therapy facilities in the country, most of the cancer patients may not show up for treatment or come later on when alternative treatments have failed.
Let me reiterate that radiation therapists are there to deliver radiotherapy treatment so as to save lives, we are here to give you life after cancer.
Radiation therapy commonly known as kupisa in Shona, is the treatment of cancer and non-cancerous cells using ionising radiation in the form of high X-rays and gamma rays.
It is either given radically to achieve cure or for palliation in advanced disease to ease symptoms and improve the quality of life of the patient. The patients are treated with very big machines called linear accelerators.
It is normally given daily from Monday to Friday with breaks during weekend until the treatment is finished depending on the number of days a patient is given.
In Zimbabwe, radiotherapy is offered at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare and Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo, and a private cancer facility Oncocare in Newlands, Harare. The centres provide treatment on an outpatient basis.
When it comes to something as important as radiation therapy in cancer treatment, getting to the bottom of some of the myths could help people to make informed decisions in their battle against cancer and come to the radiation therapist for treatment on time.
As a senior radiation therapist with indepth knowledge and expertise in the field of radiation therapy, I am here to dispel any myths and misconceptions you may have regarding radiation therapy.
Myth 1: Radiation is painful
The fact that radiation therapy is commonly called kupisa has made many assume that the treatment results in a burning sensation and must be very painful.
Receiving radiation is not painful, the delivery process cannot be felt and is completely painless.
However, after few weeks there can be skin soreness and dryness over the treated area but the side effects are temporary.
Mtyh 2: Radiation therapy will cause me to lose my hair
Hair loss on the head is typically only a risk factor if you are receiving radiation therapy to the brain.
In fact, hair loss on the head is a more common side effect of chemotherapy, not radiation therapy.
There are certain chemotherapy drugs that make hair fall off so prior to treatment, patients are advised to shave their heads bald but the hair normally grows back some time after treatment.
Myth 3: Radiation therapy increases my chances of developing more cancers
The risk of a second cancer from radiation treatments is very low potential side effect of radiation that can occur later, for adults the risk of developing a radiation-induced cancer is only about 1 in 150 to 1 in 200 people.
This second cancer risk is most often outweighed by the benefit of treating the active known cancer. At both centres, each patient works with his or her doctor to understand any late side effects of radiation therapy and all the risks versus benefits to make an informed decision about your course of cancer care.
Myth 4: Radiation therapy causes me to be more radioactive
Radiotherapy does not involve leaving any radioactive materials in the body, so the patient will not be radioactive after treatment, and it is perfectly safe to be around loved ones.
Myth 5: Radiotherapy will cause cancer to spread and kill me
It is a fact that about 80% of our cancer patients present themselves at the radiotherapy institutions when the cancer is at an advanced stage.
Radiotherapy is very frequently given late in the course of cancer to palliate symptoms.
Often after the cancer has turned resistant to chemotherapy and has spread widely or when the patient is too frail to receive any other therapy, the terminal cancer will take its natural course no matter what is done.
In such cases, relatives may form a misconception that radiotherapy given soon before death caused the tumour to progress and the patient to die. This is untrue.
A good prognosis is the result of treating cancer at earlier stages.
We encourage early detection and treatment to save lives and have more cancer survivors.