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 breast cancer
Many breast cancer patients come to CTCA with advanced stage disease. Many others have previously received traditional radiation treatments and cannot tolerate more radiation exposure. Our leading-edge technologies make it possible for our doctors to re-treat previously treated areas that have a recurrence of cancer.
When a breast tumor is large or not easily removed by surgery, radiation therapy before surgery can help to shrink the breast tumor. After breast-sparing surgery, radiation treatments can help destroy any remaining breast cancer cells.
Addressing breast cancer radiation therapy side effects
When radiation passes through the skin, the skin cells in the treatment area become damaged. If you receive frequent radiation, your skin cells often do not have enough time to repair and regenerate in between treatments.
Common breast cancer radiation side effects may include redness, dryness or irritation of the skin in the treated area. Another common side effect is fatigue, especially in the later weeks of treatment and for some time afterward.
Our radiation oncologists are able to deliver higher radiation doses to breast cancer cells while limiting damage to healthy tissue. Your radiation oncologist may also recommend radioprotective drugs, such as amifostine, to help guard healthy tissue from exposure to radiation.
If skin irritation occurs, your doctors will provide various comfort measures. For example, you may receive topical drugs in the form of therapeutic creams or ointments. You may also receive antibiotics to fight infection or pain medications to relieve discomfort.
Throughout your breast cancer treatment, your care team will provide various integrative oncology services to help you cope better with potential breast cancer radiation side effects. For instance, mind-body medicine can help you relax with techniques like distraction and guided imagery. Image enhancement can help you look and feel better about yourself.