What issues would make a patient not eligible to receive radiation treatment?
A patient may not be eligible to receive radiation treatment either because radiation therapy is not indicated for treatment of that particular cancer or stage of the disease or because, even though indicated, it would not be safe to receive radiation.
Contraindications to radiation therapy are often categorized as relative or absolute contraindications. Generally speaking autoimmune/connective tissue diseases increase the risk of acute and chronic side effects of radiation therapy. These patients may be at risk of severe skin reaction, severe scarring and even soft tissue necrosis. Depending on the type and level of activity of this form of diseases, radiation can be relatively or absolutely contraindicated. For example Scleroderma and active lupus are considered absolute contraindications to radiation therapy but an inactive, or limited Lupus such as Discoid Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis are considered relative contraindications to radiation therapy.
In recent years and with the invention of sophisticated radiation technology such as CyberKnife and Steroeotactic Radiosurgery, a traditional contraindication to radiation therapy due to previous radiation to the same target area, has been challenged. Without this precise form of targeting the tumor, a relatively significant dose of radiation was given to adjacent normal tissues. Each critical organ in our bodies has a certain tolerance to radiation. That is the dose an organ can safely receive without permanent and irreversible damage. Traditionally we could not reirraidate the same target area because we would have exceeded the safe dose an adjacent organ could tolerate. With this new technology, we can deliver additional doses of radiation to the same target without exceeding the safe dose to the adjacent organs. Despite this technology, at some point, we may reach a point when no additional radiation can be safely delivered and that would make a patient ineligible for additional radiation.
Patients’ ineligibility for receiving radiation is a very compelling reason for a multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of cancer. As an example would it not be a shame to subject a patient ineligible for radiation therapy to a lumpectomy when radiation is a critical part of breast conservation therapy? That would sadly would subject the patient to a second operation, a mastectomy, because lumpectomy without radiation would not adequately address the risk of a recurrence in that breast. To avoid similar scenarios, consult all the members of a treatment team before initiating any form of treatment and undergoing any form of procedure. Be proactive!