What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy uses targeted energy (e.g., X-rays, radioactive substances) to destroy cancer cells, shrink tumors, and/or alleviate certain cancer-related symptoms. It may be used:
- As a primary treatment to destroy cancer cells
- In combination with other treatments to stop the growth of cancer cells
- Before another treatment to shrink a tumor
- After another treatment to stop the growth of any remaining cancer cells
- To relieve symptoms of advanced cancer
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), our radiation oncologists are experienced in using advanced technologies to deliver targeted radiation therapy while also proactively managing side effects.
Q&A with Dr. Vashi
Types of radiation
Some radiation therapy delivery methods include:
- External beam radiation therapy – radiation is directed from a machine outside the body onto cancerous cells within the body. (Examples: 3D conformal radiation therapy, IMRT, IGRT, TomoTherapy, stereotactic radiosurgery)
- Internal radiation therapy – radioactive material is placed (via a catheter or other carrier) directly into or near a tumor. (Example: high-dose rate brachytherapy)
- Systemic radiation therapy – a radioactive substance (that is swallowed or injected) travels through the blood to locate and destroy cancerous cells. (Example: radioactive iodine therapy)
Experienced care team
Our radiation oncologists specialize in delivering maximum radiation doses to tumors with less damage to healthy tissues and organs. Our radiation oncologists will work closely with you and the rest of your care team to deliver radiation therapy based on your individual needs.
Individualized treatment approach
Radiation therapy is an important part of treatment for many of our patients. Since each cancer type requires a different approach, your treatment plan will be based on your unique needs and treatment goals.
Our radiation oncologists use advanced imaging techniques before and during radiation treatment so we can closely track the tumor. We use highly targeted radiation technologies to deliver maximum radiation doses to tumors, with less impact on healthy tissues and organs. Thereby, we can often provide options to patients who have reached their maximum tolerated dosage of traditional radiation.
Depending on your individual needs, you may receive radiation therapy alone or in combination with other treatment modalities like surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or immunotherapy. Throughout your treatment, your radiation oncologist will monitor the effectiveness of the radiation therapy and modify your treatment plan accordingly.
Managing radiation side effects
Typical radiation therapy can be damaging to the body and cause unpleasant side effects, such as skin changes, fatigue, nausea, and other side effects, depending on the part of your body being treated. During your radiation treatment, clinicians from a variety of integrative oncology services will work with you to reduce side effects and improve your quality of life.
Radiation therapy for brain cancer
Radiation therapy can be used to destroy brain tumor cells and to relieve symptoms, like pain or discomfort, caused by a tumor. We use highly targeted radiation therapy delivery systems that allow us to increase the dose and precision of radiation to a brain tumor, while minimizing damage to healthy brain tissue.
Radiation therapy for brain cancer patients is commonly used after a biopsy, or following surgical resection of a tumor, to destroy any microscopic tumor cells left behind. It may also be an option for unresectable brain tumors or metastatic brain tumors (tumors that have spread to the brain from another part of the body).
The specifics of your brain cancer radiation therapy plan will be based on several factors, including the type and size of the brain tumor and the extent of disease. External beam radiation is commonly used for brain cancer. The area radiated typically includes the tumor and an area surrounding the tumor. For metastatic brain tumors, radiation is sometimes given to the entire brain.
Since lung cancer commonly spreads to the brain, some individuals with lung cancer receive radiation as a preventative therapy to stop metastatic brain tumors from developing.
Addressing brain cancer radiation therapy side effects
Depending on your radiation dose, site and other factors, radiation therapy for brain cancer may cause certain side effects. Fatigue, hair loss, skin irritation and edema (brain swelling) are common side effects of radiation for brain tumors. Sometimes, individuals develop a blood clot in the leg, causing swelling of the foot, ankle or calf.
As you receive brain cancer radiation therapy, your care team will work with you to proactively manage any side effects. For example, we may prescribe steroids to help reduce swelling, or blood thinners to dissolve blood clots and prevent them from traveling into the lungs.
You’ll also receive integrative oncology services, like nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine, pain management, oncology rehabilitation and mind-body medicine, to help combat any side effects of radiation or other treatments you receive. These therapies will help keep you strong so you can continue treatment while maintaining your quality of life.