Cancer cells can be treated in two ways: by poisoning the quick-growing cells through chemotherapy, or by interrupting their growth and killing the useful ness of their nucleus. Inside the nucleus, strands of protein DNA are replicating themselves over and over, out of control, which is what makes a cell cancerous. Radiation treatments shine X-rays or gamma rays at the cancerous cells. The frequency of the light -- which is larger and slower than visible light -- can damage the proteins and keep the cell form working properly or at all.
Radiation dosages are based on the sensitivity of the cancer to radiation -- that is, how likely the cancer is to be damaged. For instance, skin cancer cells are more likely to be hurt by radiation therapy than brain cancer. The cancer cells can also be more or less sensitive depending on where they are located in the tumor. Cancer cells with a better oxygen supply are more sensitive to radiation than ones far away from a blood vessel. And the amount of radiation needed varies from person to person.
Cancers are now usually treated with both chemical and radiation therapies. Radiation therapy will also damage normal tissue, so radiation treatment lasts longer so that the healthy tissue can recover while the cancerous tissue is killed.
Mistletoe extracts have been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory and to stimulate the immune system. Using mistletoe as a treatment for cancer has been investigated in more than 30 clinical studies. Doctors found that while some people reported that using mistletoe helped, nearly all of the studies had major weaknesses that keep mistletoe extract form being a reliable option for treating cancer.
The American Association of Physicists in Medicine contributed to the information in the TV portion of this report.