Eli5: If radiation causes cancer than how can it also help kill cancer?



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Radiation damages cells and damages the genetic material in them. Most of the time it either just kills the cell, or makes it not function well. Sometimes though it damages it in a way that doesn’t kill it, but makes it reproduce too much. This is cancer. Randomly getting hit with radiation increases your risk of cancer. Too much radiation just outright kills you. For treating cancer with radiation it is a focused/targeted dose of radiation aimed at the cancer itself of sufficient strength to kill it.

Radiation damages cells, it doesn’t just broadly cause cancer. A cancer is just a specific type of damaged cell that starts to uncontrollably reproduce.

Radiation treatment works by exposing the cancer cells to radiation with the intent to damage them enough to completely kill them.

Radiation damages your DNA, the instructions that your cells have to do what they do.

Most frequently, that damage ruins the instructions so that cell cannot live any more and it dies and you’re fine, because it’s one cell.

In rare occasions that damage can ruin just enough instructions that the cell can still live, but it’s forgotten how to do anything other than reproduce into more damaged cells. Those damaged cells grow and reproduce into more damaged cells. On and on and before long what used to be your liver is now just a blob of useless cells. That’s bad because now you don’t have a liver any more.

That’s pretty much the gist.

Radiation can be used to kill cancer cells because it can be used to kill *any cell*s*.* It’s also handy because you can use advanced technology to target the “kill zone” of the radiation to the tumor or cells you want without having to cut open the body or expose *other healthy cells* to the radiation. Obviously it’s not perfect, it’s just the weapon we have at the current time.

Fire can dry clothes but also burn them. If you just wanted to burn a small part of the clothes, to say, charge $650 dollars more for a charred hole, you would focus that fire on a single spot and ensure that’s all that burns. Chemo is a bit more functional than distressed jeans but also more expensive as a result.

knifes can be used to do open heart surgery and save a life, they can also be used to stab someone and take a life.

there are different types of radiation, concentrations, and how it is administered.