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Case study: The risks of radiotherapy for cancer

MagazineJanuary 1995 (Vol. 5 Issue 10)Case study: The risks of radiotherapy for cancer

In early 1992, my aunt, aged 72, contracted lung cancer

In early 1992, my aunt, aged 72, contracted lung cancer. She was put on a course of chemotherapy pills, which was extremely successful, and virtually destroyed the cancer. But "just to put the icing on the cake", as her doctor put it, she was sent for a short course of radiotherapy to mop up the last traces. This was in May.

Immediately after completing the course, my aunt complained of a pain in her back. Her doctor told her she must have strained a muscle, but the pain persisted. At this point, she was still feeling quite healthy and energetic, but she then started to decline rapidly and died from lung cancer in August.When we put it to her doctor that the radiotherapy had done more harm than good, he said that "it often triggers the cancer off again."

I had never heard this before, and my aunt had certainly never been told of the risk.

Could this be true? If so, why aren't patients warned before going on a course of radiotherapy?

A D, London......

Why, indeed? Radiotherapy Action Group Exposure (RAGE), an English self help group, runs two groups, one dealing with injury following radiotherapy for breast cancer, the other for other injuries including a large number of women with pelvic damage following implants for cervical cancer.

Although RAGE is primarily an action group, pressing the government to enforce safe standards in radiotherapy and to acknowledge the hundreds of injuries caused by radiotherapy, they are also looking into the effects of radiation injury, so as to improve the health of their members. According to RAGE chairman, Jan Millington, "we have read in the medical literature that radiotherapy affects lymphocyte production, probably for life. This depletion may contribute towards the many seemingly unrelated maladies suffered by our members."

In damaging the immune system in so fundamental a way, it is also a recipe, we might add, for cancer.


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