Low-dose radiation is useful in inflammatory and degenerative pathologies.
40% of cancer patients receive radiotherapy, a treatment closely associated with oncological processes that, however, has other uses, still largely unknown. Ionizing radiation is also effective in benign pathologies, such as non-cancerous tumors. And, at very low doses, radiation therapy has an anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative effect that may be beneficial in inflammatory and degenerative diseases.
The Spanish Society of Radiotherapy Oncology (SEOR) has created the benign pathology group, whose purpose is to publicize, implement and develop the use of radiotherapy in non-oncological processes. “Its application is very diverse both in inflammatory, hyperproliferative and functional processes, with a high degree of efficacy that substantially improves the quality of life of patients”, he maintains. This use is widespread in countries like Germany, where 20% of radiotherapy treatments are for benign processes, Switzerland or Great Britain, but in Spain it is incipient, although it is in the process of spreading.
According to Albert Biete, emeritus professor of Medicine at the UB, former head of the Clínic’s radiotherapy oncology service and now linked to Atrys Health, the lack of equipment and waiting lists for cancer treatments have slowed down the development of radiotherapy for non-invasive diseases. cancerous. “Fortunately, we now have a good supply of linear accelerators and virtually no waiting lists, so we’ve been able to start addressing these issues,” he explains.
Radiation is indicated in inflammatory diseases such as fasciitis and tendinitis, in degenerative pathologies of the joints. It is also applied to non-cancerous tissue growths, such as heterotopic ossification of the hip. In degenerative processes it acts on inflammation, reducing pain and facilitating mobility, and in inflammatory diseases it acts on the cause.
“Trochanteritis (pain located on the side of the hip), for example, mainly affects women aged 60 and over. In eight out of ten treatments there is a significant improvement in pain, which in half of the cases is maintained at five years”, indicates Biete. But radiation is not for everyone, but rather the last option: “They send us patients who no longer know what to do after going through the traumatologist, rheumatologist, anesthetist… who have undergone physiotherapy, infiltrations and taken drugs ”.
Although the radiation doses are very low (a total of three to six grays in several sessions, when lung cancer requires 60 grays in a dose of two grays per session) and therefore no side effects have been described (skin damage, induction of of tumors), the treatment is not indicated in young people. The median age of Dr. Biete’s patients is almost 70 years, and the therapy can prevent them from taking anti-inflammatories or corticosteroids that, at these ages, they can tolerate poorly. Even without cancer, the linear accelerator commands respect. “Some come very scared, and you explain to them that the machine is the same, but it has nothing to do with cancer,” says the doctor.
At the Clínic de Barcelona, between 20 and 25 radiotherapies are performed annually for benign diseases in patients who have exhausted previous treatments. Although there is a long tradition in Germany of irradiating inflammatory or degenerative diseases, and anti-inflammatory effects are produced at low doses, it is difficult to assess the success of this option, points out the head of radiation oncology, Meritxell Mollà. In her opinion, the placebo effect is not sufficiently discriminated: “It is not that I say that it should not be done, far from it, but more well-designed studies are needed to see the effects in patients”. A. Lopez Tovar
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