Ever thought about the safety of babies around radiation patients?
That’s what we’ll be talking about for the rest of this guide.
However, to get a better understanding of all that we’re about to discuss, there are two essential terms we first have to talk about, which include RADIATION and RADIOTHERAPY.
What Is Radiation
Radiation is the emission of energy from its source, which travels through waves or particles through a space or a material medium.
It might interest you to know that radiation also travels with the speed of light (3 x 10 ^ 8 meters per second)
By default, radiation is caused by some naturally occurring elements and could be dangerous, especially in its high dose.
However, science has found a way to use this natural radiation, convert it into an artificial one, and then use it for profitable purposes like radiotherapy, which involves treatment of cancer, academics, generating electricity, mining, etc.
And just a side note, the naturally occurring elements capable of emitting radiation are called RADIOACTIVE ELEMENTS.
Just as hinted above, radiations are obtained from two primary sources, namely;
- Natural Radiation and
- Artificial Radiation
These forms of radiation are found in cosmic rays, radioactive soil (which contains radioactive elements), and rocks. This radiation is found all around us, in the water, air, and even our bodies.
It is constantly occurring around and within us, but we don’t know it; talk more of detecting it.
These are radiation sources created by humans. It is generated in various medical, commercial, and industrial activities.
The most significant artificial radiation exposure is from medical procedures, such as X-rays, nuclear medicine, and radiation therapy.
So, for the sake of this article, our focus will be on artificial radiation.
What is Radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy, also known as radiation therapy, is a form of cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
Radiotherapy is sometimes used to treat non-cancerous tumors and other conditions such as thyroid disease and some blood disorders.
It uses high-energy particles such as X-rays, gamma-rays, electron beams, or protons to destroy cancer cells.
If someone gets exposed to a high level of radiation, usually over a short period, it could cause Acute radiation syndrome (ARS). This is a severe ailment.
Some persons have also mistaken radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but there is a difference.
Chemotherapy (Chemo) uses certain drugs to kill cancer cells, while Radiotherapy uses radiation.
Radiation beams work by changing the DNA makeup of the tumor, causing it to shrink or die. This type of cancer treatment has fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
Types of Radiotherapy
There are two main types of radiotherapy
- Internal beam radiation and
- External beam radiation
Internal Beam Radiation (Brachytherapy)
Also called Brachytherapy, this is a form of radiation used for cancer treatment, and it works by sending a hefty dose of radiation directly into or near a tumor.
Some radioactive materials are inserted into the body at the cancer site during internal beam radiation.
In some cases, this form of radiotherapy usually makes the patient radioactive. Therefore, the patients might be asked to remain in the hospital for a while. The patient will also have limited visitors.
There are two main types of internal beam radiation:
- Brachytherapy (Radioactive implant treatment)
- Radioactive liquid treatment (Radioisotope)
In Brachytherapy, a sealed radioactive material is put into or very close to the cancer site in your body. In radioactive liquid treatment, a drink, capsule, or injection is injected into your bloodstream.
Brachytherapy is of two types: temporary and permanent radioactive implant treatment.
When undergoing this treatment, you may need to avoid contact with babies and pregnant women for a time.
It is advisable to stay in the hospital for this treatment to go down to a particular level where it is safe to be with others.
You will be given a separate room.
External Beam Radiation
It delivers radiation from a machine outside the body, unlike internal radiation. This is the most common type of radiation therapy.
It is given from an outside source, involving a beam of radiation aimed at a part of the body, and affects cells in your body only for a moment.
You are not radioactive at any time during or after treatment because there is no radiation source inside your body.
Is It Safe for Babies to Be Around Radiation Patients?
‘I am a breastfeeding mum with a baby of two months. Currently, I am undergoing a radiotherapy session. Is it safe for my baby to be around me? Should I stop breastfeeding my baby?’ Sandra, a mother of one, asked.
In recent times, questions like this have been posed by some mothers who are undergoing radiotherapy. They’re worried that their body becomes radioactive after undergoing a session.
But there isn’t much to worry about because we’ll tell you all you need to know if your body becomes radioactive after a session, if there is a unique way for a radiation patient to take care of a baby or if it’s safe for a mum to breastfeed her baby during this period.
I had an interview with a good friend of mine, Mr. Owen Landen, an expert radiographer; he said:
“Before the treatment commences, it is safe for a baby to be around the patient, but once the exposure button is clicked on and the radiation rays become effective, a baby shouldn’t be around the room, mainly because babies are more sensitive to radiation than regular adults.
He further stated, “it is not safe for any other person to be in the same room with the patient.”
According to Carolyn Vachani, OncoLink’s Nurse Educator, she said:
“This is a widespread concern. Patients receiving cancer medications pose no risk to children, pregnant women, or anyone else. Cancer treatment medications typically leave the body in urine, stool, and vomit for 48-72 hours after each treatment.”
However, as a precaution, contact with babies should be avoided for a period.
In simple terms, during the radiotherapy session, a baby shouldn’t be in the same room with the patient, but after the session and a little while, it can be okay for babies to be around. This time timeframe should be based on the oncologist’s advice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Radiation Patients Radioactive?
In external beam radiation, there’s no radiation source in the body. Therefore, the patient is not radioactive before or after this treatment.
In internal beam radiation, radioactive material stays in the body for a short period. Once the radioactive material is removed from your body, you won’t give off radiation or be radioactive.
However, patients with permanent implants give off small doses of radiation as long as the source is active. It usually lasts for a few weeks or months.
What Does Radiation Do to The Body?
Deeming the fact that radiation is used for treatment, it also has disadvantages.
One disadvantage is that high radiation doses can cause Cutaneous Radiation Injury (CRI) or Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS), leading to cancer later in life. It can also change the DNA in our cells.
And that is just one of the many disadvantages if a professional is not handling the equipment.
What Happens If My Baby Gets Exposed to Radiation?
There is a significant risk of the baby developing cancer later in life if exposed to radiation. Although, researchers haven’t yet discovered the amount of radiation that poses this threat to exposed babies.
Babies are more sensitive to radiation than others because they are still developing and growing.
Dr. Fred Mettler said, ‘Radiation has a different impact on children than adults because of the anatomical and physiological difference.’
The baby might also face stunted growth, deformities, or abnormal brain function later in life.
Is It Safe for Me to Breastfeed My Baby While Undergoing Radiation Therapy?
If you have had radiotherapy to your breast or chest, you may not be able to produce any milk there. You can still breastfeed from the other (non-treated) breast.
It is usually safe to continue breastfeeding if you have radiotherapy in other areas of your body away from your chest.
Although medical professionals sometimes advise mothers who have received breast cancer radiation or even surgery not to breastfeed. But it appears that these concerns are not usually serious.
Additionally, women treated as children with cranial radiation for leukemia or chest irradiation for malignancy often have difficulty nursing their infants.
External beam radiation is usually safe for nursing mothers unless they get chemotherapy concurrently.
Can A Baby in The Womb Absorb Radiation from An X-ray?
The fetus receives less radiation than the mother because the mother’s abdomen partially protects the baby. However, if the mum swallows or breathes in radiation, it can cross over into the baby.
Babies are most sensitive to radiation from 2 to 18 weeks of pregnancy.
Side Effects of Radiotherapy
The most common side effects are fatigue and skin changes. Other early side effects are usually related to the area being treated.
Here are some side effects:
- Hair loss occurs when radiation exposure is higher than 200 rems. Radiotherapy causes hair loss in the area treated.
- Heart and brain: intense exposure to radiation from 1000 to 5000 rems will affect the functioning of the heart.
- Reproductive tract: Radiation to the ovaries can destroy eggs, disrupt egg production, and diminish the quality of the egg.
- The trouble with memory and speech: Dr. Nolan said, ‘it’s hard to determine how much memory loss or cognitive dysfunction is related to tumor and how much is related to radiotherapy.’
- Hearing loss
Radiation therapy/radiotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-ray or other particles to destroy cancer cells.
It is used to treat different cancers like liver, lung, Lymphoma, pancreatic cancer, and many more.
Radioactive materials can be passed to a baby through the breast milk of mothers with internal contamination.
Mothers in a radioactive room may be exposed to radiation and get internally contaminated if they eat, drink or breathe in radioactive materials.
Exposure of babies to radioactive elements isn’t good because this could threaten their health.
The most common radiation method is external beam radiation. Babies are okay to be around radiation patients after this particular radiotherapy session because this method doesn’t make the patient Radioactive.
For precaution, avoiding contact with babies for a certain period is essential. Although, there is no unique way for a radiation patient to treat a baby.
For most babies, radiation exposure to X-rays probably only raises a minimal risk of cancer. If at all.
The chance of getting cancer increases with the radiation the baby gets exposed to. A baby who has had a few X-rays may not have any higher risk.
Generally, babies’ exposure to radiation can cause cancer, stunted growth, or deformities later in life.