Radiation Therapy

Radiation oncology is a rapidly evolving field. Our radiation oncologists are actively involved in clinical trials and research and fully committed to providing the very latest equipment and treatment options close to home.

Radiation therapy uses beams of energy to damage the DNA of tumor cells so they stop growing and spreading. Radiation can be used alone or with chemotherapy or it can be used before or after surgery to shrink or sterilize tumor cells. When radiation is used to shrink tumors to reduce pain, it is called palliative radiation therapy. Radiation is delivered externally, internally or by a combination of both. External beam radiation therapy is usually an outpatient procedure and involves the use of a linear accelerator (linac) to deliver precise, high-energy x-rays to the cancer. Internal radiation therapy is known as brachytherapy or implant therapy. During this procedure a radioactive source is placed next to or inside of a tumor.

Side Effects

Side effects with radiation vary and are always limited to the area being treated. Most side effects can be controlled by medication. At the completion of treatment, side effects usually disappear within 4 to 6 weeks. Each patient is assessed and monitored throughout the entire course of treatment to manage the side effects. Examples of side effects could include:

  • Fatigue - very common
  • Skin irritation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea

The Process

Radiation therapy is a multi-step process with a team of highly skilled professionals working together with each patient to ensure the best and safest treatment possible.

The initial visit, called a consultation, is when the patient meets the Radiation Oncologist to discuss treatment options, and the benefits and potential risks of radiation therapy.

Treatment Planning CT Scan.
Many patients, but not all, may be required to have a treatment planning CT Scan. This CT Scan is very different than a diagnostic CT Scan, in that the patient is scanned in the exact body position that each radiation treatment will be done. For some patients, an immobilization device will have already been fabricated for the patient and this CT Scan is done with the patient in the immobilization device. This CT Scan is sent to the treatment planning computer at Faith Hope and Love Cancer Center and the Radiation Oncologist will develop a treatment plan specific to each patient.

The simulation process is the final process before starting treatment. At this time, all the planning and preparation has been done and approved by the Radiation Oncologist. "Simulation" is a "dry run" of an actual treatment. While the patient is on the treatment table, the Radiation Therapists will take several electronic images so that the Radiation Oncologist can compare these images to the treatment plan and be assured that the radiation beam will treat the exact area. When the Radiation Oncologist approves the images exactly as the plan, the patient is marked with a skin marker. At the completion of this appointment, the patient is given an appointment time for his/her first treatment.

Each treatment plan is personalized to the patient. Radiation therapy can be completed in one day or over several weeks, and is delivered alone or in conjunction with other treatments like chemotherapy or surgery. Only the Radiation Oncologist can answer how many treatments will be given for each patient.

Follow-up Visits.
These appointments enable physicians to monitor post-treatment progress. Patients may be asked to have additional blood tests, x-rays and scans. During follow-up appointments patients should also report any unusual symptoms such as pain, swelling, appetite loss, a cough or bruises or bleeding. Follow-up visits are also a good time to learn about ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and exercise.

Types of Radiation Treatment

IGRT: Image-Guided Radiation Therapy

The IGRT uses a linear accelerator and combines IMRT with state-of-the-art imaging technology. Because tumors can move between treatments due to weight loss or even breathing, the IGRT’s ability to precisely pinpoint the location of the tumor and allow for adjustments to be made before each treatment allows for smaller radiation beams and higher doses of radiation to be delivered safely. This helps shorten the treatment process for patients and reduces side effects.

IORT: Intraoperative Radiation Therapy

This treatment is delivered in surgery and involves aiming a single dose of high-energy radiation directly at a tumor or affected area after all or most of the cancer has been removed. Adjacent healthy tissue is protected by special shields. This treatment is used at Unity for some breast cancers. Some patients will also receive external beam Radiation Therapy after their IORT. Only the Radiation Oncologist can make the decision if a patient is a candidate for IORT.

SBRT: Stereotactic Body Radio Therapy

Using precisely focused beams of radiation, SBRT can deliver full or high doses of radiation in fewer sessions than ever before possible. Used to shrink or eliminate tumors, SBRT is a non-invasive, painless alternative to surgery and can be used to treat some otherwise inoperable tumors. Treatments are done in 3 to 5 days. Most patients can return to normal activities shortly after treatment.

IMRT: Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy

IMRT is a state-of-the-art radiation delivery system that is used to treat difficult-to-reach tumors in the spine, liver, brain, etc., or recurrent tumors. With IMRT the dose conforms to the shape of the target tissue in 3-dimensions. It is extremely precise, which allows for high radiation doses to be delivered to the tumor. Sparing surrounding tissue helps reduce side effects and improves patient comfort.