32 – Palliative Radiotherapy – what does it do?

14 Dec 2021

Now I know how a ready meal feels. Cook on full power for 4 minutes and then rest for one minute.

I’ve now finished my fifth and final (for now?) fraction of Radiotherapy. So that’s been one treatment a day for five days. As I mentioned in my previous post, there’s no mask for body positioning in the treatment machine (LINAC), just a small tattoo on my chest.

Each day, I’m positioned on the machine and then the radiologists use lasers to ensure my body and the machine is in exactly the correct position. Then I must lay perfectly still for a few minutes as though my life depends on it. And to a great degree, I suppose it does!

I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised that the side-effects are not so bad at the moment – certainly when comparing with the extremely tough treatment to my throat last year. This treatment is really to ease the pain in my back, that’s been caused by the tumours increasing in size.

So, they are hopefully shrunk a bit in size, but my understanding is that it’ll be a few weeks before the full effects are known.

I’ve also had the time – and inclination – to read up some more on what radiotherapy does and what these treatments are given in ‘fractions’, rather than one good ‘zapping’ – so to speak. When I say ‘read up’ I really mean ‘skim read’ of the bits I can understand.

So here goes:

It starts off with the billions of cells that we have in our body. Normally they ‘just work’ and keep all our body working in tip-top shape. Different types of cells in the body do different jobs. But they are basically similar. They have our DNA which generally controls how the cells behave.

Cells come and go. They make copies (reproduce) in an orderly and controlled way and are needed to keep the body healthy. Sometimes they get damaged, and our body has amazing repair teams that can fix cells very quickly and get them good as new.

BUT, some cells get confused by instructions from our normal DNA and they start reproducing (mutating) in a disorderly way and become uncontrollable.

In the worst cases, they can’t be fixed by the repair teams. These worst-case mutated cells can become ‘cancer tumours’

Of course, there are a number of treatments to either kill-off the cancerous cells, or at least hinder their growth. These range from chemical therapy (chemotherapy) to radiation therapy (radiotherapy) and even newer treatments such as Immunotherapy.

I’ve also spent the past few weeks on my own self-administered treatment of Beerotherapy. I’m finding that high intake doesn’t actually control the tumours, do I do forget about them for a few hours. Treatment will continue for as long as I can get to the pub.

Anyway – back to radiotherapy!

The machine that I refer to is a medical linear accelerator (LINAC). I wrote an article on this last year here

It uses extremely high-power energy beams - let’s call these micro-bullets – moving at the speed of light and accurately aimed at the tumours. They’re ‘fired’ from outside the body and because they’re so minutely small and incredibly fast moving, I don’t feel anything while the treatment is being done.

Inside my body however, a number of things begin happening.

First, obviously the micro-bullets are also damaging good cells that are adjacent to the tumours – but my body’s repair teams get straight to work on repairing these. The really clever bit is that the cancerous cells that are getting blasted are not able to repair themselves anything like as effectively – and so bit by bit they become reduced or sometimes destroyed.

And this bit-by-bit thing is helped by what the medics call ‘fractionalisation’.

Which means that instead of one single dose of energy – in my case 20 Gy (grays) of energy (equivalent to around 200,000 normal chest x-rays) is given to me in five fractions of 4Gy per day. In this way my healthy cells are being repaired 24/7 and ready for the next treatment.

An analogy (admittedly not a great one) is to consider a car with four road tyres and a spare in the trunk. If the driver was unlucky enough to have a puncture in each – it would most likely to be less disruptive to have one puncture each day and repair it, rather than five punctures in the same day.

All the while, the cancerous tumours are in big trouble, because they don’t have the efficient repair teams to fix themselves.

So, fractionalisation is far better for the body. Of course, not all the healthy cells repair overnight – or even over days or weeks. Some of these also get damaged beyond repair and this becomes what we know as side-effects from the treatment.

And unless I’m one in a billion – I’ll feel these side-effects over the next few days, weeks or even months.

Which leads me nicely towards the holiday season. No more treatment until at least mid-January, when I see Dr Grant again and find out what comes next.

And that leads me nicely in to wishing you a very happy Xmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year, wherever you are in the world.

Take care

Woz x

7 thoughts on “32 – Palliative Radiotherapy – what does it do?”

  1. Gillian Laskier

    Wow. Warren, Have you ever considered a career in education? You have a real talent for explaining complex issues in a straightforward way….
    Sending love and very best wishes from us all. Xx

    Oh Gill. Me and education never really mixed. It’s why I have to keep it simple!
    Take care x

  2. Hi Woz – so far so good. Here’s hoping that the radiotherapy brings you some relief, and if not, switch back to beerotherapy over Christmas. We will speak soon.
    Love from Beverley and Martin.

    I’m definitely keeping with the beerotherapy – nothing will stop that xx

  3. Merry Christmas Wozz to you and the girls. You seriously rock buddy 🤘. Hang in there.

    Cheers mate! Long time no speaks – lets catch up on a video call soon. All the best x

  4. I really admire your stamina and strength bro – you are a true inspiration for many many others! I bet you got a different perception of Queen´s “Radio Gaga” now when listening 😉 …
    My family and I wish you lots of power to defeat the last 3 intruders Tom, Dick and Harry for good and of course we wish you and your family a lovely Christmas!!!

    Hey Tony. You know me only too well – and that I was pretty Gaga, well before the radiotherapy stuff 😉
    As it happens, that’s right up there as one of my favourite Queen songs!

    Aiming to get over to Spain in 2022 for a few days – so hopefully catch up then.
    Love to you all from us all x

  5. Fuck Tom, Dick, and Harry! Stay strong Wozza, and whanau! Keep up the beerotherapy, that’s important. Best wishes, and lots of love sent from NZ xx

    You got it in one, Kels. That’s exactly what I’m doing 🙂
    Take care – Woz x

  6. Here’s to fractionalisation 🙌🏼 How clever is the body! And medicine! You deserve to enjoy a nice chilled Christmas – with plenty of beerotherapy…it might keep those side effects at bay! 🤩 xxx

    Heh heh, that’s for sure Rach xx

  7. Wishing the great Wozzer and family an excellent holiday and new year.


    ថ្ងៃ ឈប់ សម្រាក បុណ្យ គ្រីស្ទម៉ាស់ ដ៏ សប្បាយ

    And the same to you and yours mate xx

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