A new drama, based on real life events, has entered the spotlight with HBO’s “Chernobyl,” which is the top-rated TV show, beating out “The Wire,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Sopranos” and AMC’s “Breaking Bad.”
After five episodes, IMDb users have voted “Chernobyl” the best show in television history. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. This series has a deep and personal interest for me. As a radiation oncologist, I use radiation every day to heal and cure cancer patients.
On the other hand, “Chernobyl” teaches us that radiation can leave devastating effects when handled inappropriately.
At 1:23 a.m. on April 26, 1986, an explosion destroyed reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl’s Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Station in the former Soviet Union. The world witnessed the worst human-made disaster in history and the effects are being felt today.
Thirty years later, five million people live on contaminated lands and hundreds of thousands of people are sick or suffering.
The disaster released at least 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. About 800,000 men risked their lives by exposing themselves to radiation in order to contain the situation. 25,000 of these have died and 70,000 are disabled.
The environmental group Greenpeace places the eventual death toll at 93,000 cancer deaths worldwide. The radiation leak caused the nearby forest to turn a bright ginger color, thus the forest was named the “Red Forest.”
I know that hearing these types of statistics can scare anyone from the idea of radiation. However, it can be used for tremendous good.
In health care, we use radiation for imaging and therapy.
Radiation causes damage at the DNA level of a cell, destroying its ability to reproduce and ultimately leading to cell death. At high enough doses, nothing will be spared from the effects of radiation, including cancer cells.
Radiation therapy is the enigmatic treatment that stirs fear us because most have a poor understanding of it. The reality is that more than half of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy during their treatment. This percentage is likely to increase through the years as technology in the field of radiation therapy exponentially improves, with greater precision to target tumors while sparing normal tissues.
The specialty of radiotherapy has evolved (and continues to evolve), and its complexity has dramatically increased on multiple levels, creating unique challenges and questions. In recent years, we have seen improvements in survival due to the rapidly evolving technology of radiation therapy.
Three technologies have evolved that have changed the scope of radiation therapy: Imaging, the computer software used for radiation planning, and the improved ability to account for movement during treatment.
These advancements have allowed radiation oncologists to treat tumors with precision to the degree of millimeters, as opposed to centimeters.
To be more specific, there has roughly been a 400% improvement in precision within the specialty. What has been the end result of these improvements? In simple terms: More potent radiation doses, faster overall treatment delivery, reduced side effects and improvement in tumor control.
Thirty years ago, the world witnessed one of the worst man-made disasters due to radiation exposure. In the same 30 years, we have made exponential progress in radiation therapy toward the treatment and cure of cancer.