How long does it take for radiation toxicity to leave the system when treatment ends?

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MineshMehtaMD (Physician - Oncology - Radiation (Verified) ) - 07 / 05 / 2012

There is no straightforward answer to this question. When a beam of radiation is targeted at the tumor, it immediately exits the brain. Therefore, the patient is not radioactive, and is not “carrying” any radiation, at any point in time. The physical ionization effect of radiation on water within the cells (which is the most common basis for radiation to effect tiisues) occurs almost instantaneously, and this results in events that almost immediately cause damage to a cell’s genetic machinery or DNA. Repair (at least partial) of these DNA lesions generally occurs over a matter of numerous hours. As a consequence of this DNA damage and repair, a cell’s fat can be “sealed” to several possible outcomes including cell death, cell survival without significant proliferation, resistance to treatment and continued proliferation, or accumulation of DNA damaging events, which over time can result in mutations that can cause late effects, even many years out. In normal tissues, damage and repair processes kick in almost immediately, and some of them can cause “early effects” such as hair loss and skin changes over days to weeks, or effects such as swelling which occur over months, or much later effects such as necrosis, scarring, vascular changes, etc. So, the effects of radiation continue over a prolonged period of time.
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