Why Radiation Therapy? What are the benefits of radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy has been used for more than a century to treat cancer and is an effective means of treating many types of cancers in almost any part of the body. Radiation therapy treatment sessions are quick and painless. With minimal to no side effects, most patients return to their normal daily routines following each treatment appointment. Nearly two-thirds of all cancer patients receive radiation during the course of their treatment. For many patients, radiation is the only treatment needed.
There are several benefits of using radiation therapy. Radiation therapy:
- Is a localized treatment, meaning it targets a specific area of the body.
- Can be used in the management of cancers that cannot be treated successfully by surgery or chemotherapy alone.
- Can be used following surgery to eradicate existing cancer cells that couldn’t be removed.
- Can reduce the size of a tumor so that it can be more safely removed or treated with chemotherapy during surgery.
- Can offer permanent control of a tumor thereby reducing pressure, bleeding, pain and other distressing symptoms, and enhancing quality of life.
- Can be combined with chemotherapy to enhance the effectiveness of both treatments.
At PCI we offer several types of radiation therapy designed to treat all forms and stages of cancer and some noncancerous conditions:
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Stereotactic radiotherapy is a technique that allows your radiation oncologist to use extremely focused beams of radiation to destroy certain types of tumors. Since the beam is so precise, your radiation oncologist may be able to spare more healthy tissue. This additional precision is achieved by using a very secure immobilization of the head or body or by using techniques that allow the radiation beam to follow organ motion during breathing.
Before you receive radiation therapy, your radiation oncologist, dosimetrist and medical physicist work together using sophisticated computer software to calculate the best treatment for your body. This treatment planning ensures that the tumor site receives the maximum amount of radiation while minimizing exposure to healthy tissue and organs.
Stereotactic radiotherapy is frequently given in a single dose (sometimes called stereotactic radiosurgery or SRS) although certain situations may require more than one dose. In addition to treating some cancers or benign tumors, radiosurgery can also be used to treat malformations in the brain’s blood vessels and certain noncancerous (benign) neurologic conditions.
Sometimes a high dose of stereotactic radiotherapy can be focused on a tumor outside the brain and given in a few treatments (typically three to eight). This form of treatment is called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). In many clinics, this technology is called by the name of the vendor that makes it or the product name. Visit www.rtanswers.org to see a current list of brand names of SBRT.
Intensity modulated radiation therapy, or IMRT, is a specialized form of 3D-CRT that allows radiation to be more exactly shaped to fit the tumor. With IMRT, the radiation beam can be broken up into many “beamlets,” and the intensity of each beamlet can be adjusted individually. Using IMRT, it may be possible to further limit the amount of radiation received by healthy tissue near the tumor. In some situations, this may also safely allow a higher dose of radiation to be delivered to the tumor, potentially increasing the chance of a cure.
During external beam radiation therapy, a beam (or multiple beams) of radiation is directed through the skin to the cancer and the immediate surrounding area in order to destroy the main tumor and any nearby cancer cells. To minimize side effects, the treatments are typically given five days a week, Monday through Friday, for a number of weeks. This allows doctors to get enough radiation into the body to kill the cancer while giving healthy cells time to recover.
The radiation beam is usually generated by a machine called a linear accelerator. The linear accelerator, or linac, is capable of producing high-energy X-rays or electrons for the treatment of your cancer. Using treatment planning computers and software, your treatment team controls the size and shape of the beam, as well as how it is directed at your body, to effectively treat your tumor while sparing the surrounding normal tissue.
Several special types of external beam therapy are discussed in the next sections. These are used for specific types of cancer, and your radiation oncologist will recommend one of these treatments if he or she believes it will help you.
Tumors are not regular; they come in different shapes and sizes. Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy, or 3D-CRT, uses computers and special imaging techniques such as CT, MR or PET scans to show the size, shape and location of the tumor as well as surrounding organs. Your radiation oncologist can then precisely tailor the radiation beams to the size and shape of your tumor with multileaf collimators or custom fabricated field-shaping blocks. Because the radiation beams are very precisely directed, nearby normal tissue receives less radiation and is able to heal more quickly.
Radiation oncologists use image guided radiation therapy, or IGRT, to help better deliver the radiation to the cancer since tumors can move between treatments due to differences in organ filling or movements while breathing. IGRT involves conformal radiation treatment guided by imaging, such as CT, ultrasound or X-rays, taken in the treatment room just before the patient is given the radiation treatment on a daily basis.
All patients first undergo a CT scan as part of the planning process. The information from the CT scan is then transmitted to a computer in the treatment room to allow doctors to compare the earlier image with the images taken just before treatment. During IGRT, doctors compare these images to see if the treatment needs to be adjusted. This allows doctors to better target the cancer while avoiding nearby healthy tissue. In some cases, doctors will implant a tiny marker in or near the tumor to pinpoint it for IGRT. This helps to account for organ/tumor motion even if the body is immobilized by a casting device.
Did you know?
Each external beam radiation treatment is painless and takes only a few minutes. Treatments are typically scheduled five days a week, Monday through Friday, and continue for up to 10 weeks.