The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on September 21, 2021.

Radiation therapy for lung cancer

The types of radiation therapies we use to treat lung cancer include:

CyberKnife®: A tumor in or near the lungs can move as you breathe, making it difficult to accurately target with standard radiation. As a result, the tumor may not receive enough radiation, and healthy tissue near the tumor may be damaged. The CyberKnife software and respiratory tracking system allows us to confirm the location of the lung tumor and continually track its movement, in real time, helping us more precisely deliver radiation without damaging healthy surrounding tissue. Also, unlike standard radiation therapy that divides the total radiation dose into smaller doses over numerous sessions, CyberKnife allows us to destroy tumors with high radiation doses in four to five sessions, depending on the location of the tumor and other factors.

External beam radiation therapy (EBRT): EBRT helps to lower the risk of side effects typically associated with radiation treatment for lung cancer, such as difficulty breathing or heart damage. Some additional advantages of EBRT may include:

  • Because EBRT is an outpatient procedure, it does not come with the standard risks of complications associated with major surgery for lung cancer, which can include surgical bleeding, post-operative pain or the risk of stroke, heart attack or blood clot.
  • The procedure itself is painless.
  • EBRT poses no risk of radioactivity to you or to others with whom you have contact, so you can continue normal activities with family and friends.

High-dose rate brachytherapy (HDR): Because the lungs support breathing and are located near the heart and other essential structures, it is important for radiation treatment to be tightly focused on tumors to avoid serious side effects. That is why HDR brachytherapy may be a beneficial treatment option for lung cancer patients. Some other potential benefits of HDR brachytherapy include:

  • Radiation beams are precisely targeted inside the tumors, controlling the location and intensity, and offering more precision and concentrated dosing.
  • Radiation exposure to healthy lung tissue and nearby organs is limited or eliminated, reducing side effects like difficulty breathing.

Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): Three-dimensional planning with IMRT allows the radiation oncologist to simultaneously treat lung cancer tumors with different doses of radiation, while sparing healthy tissue in the lungs and elsewhere.

RapidArc®: We use RapidArc technology to deliver IMRT with greater speed and precision. RapidArc radiation therapy is designed to shorten treatment times to one-half up to one-eighth that of standard radiation therapy. In a single 360-degree rotation, a linear accelerator revolves around the patient, delivering a sculpted, tightly focused beam of radiation directly to a tumor in less than two minutes. This results in better tumor targeting and less damage to surrounding healthy tissue. It also helps reduce the amount of time a patient spends in radiation treatment, which is usually administered five days a week for several weeks.

Respiratory gating: We also use respiratory gating to accurately target tumors by adjusting for tumor motion during IMRT. Tumors, such as those near the lungs, often move as a result of breathing and other involuntary movements in the body. Respiratory gating enables us to “paint” concentrated doses of radiation onto tumors with greater accuracy. The system tracks tumor motion as a result of breathing, helping us to target the tumor and protect healthy tissue from receiving unnecessary radiation during IMRT.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT): Preserving healthy tissue is important for many lung cancer patients, who may be struggling with other conditions like emphysema. With stereotactic body radiation, the procedure:

  • Delivers higher radiation doses to tumors, which would not be possible with other radiation therapies
  • Causes less damage to healthy lung tissue
  • Requires fewer number of treatments than conventional radiation therapy

TomoTherapy®: Radiation therapy can damage the lungs—making your breathing worse than it was before treatment by affecting nearby healthy tissues. That’s why TomoTherapy, which delivers more precise radiation doses to match complex lung tumor shapes while avoiding sensitive structures, may help limit side effects like difficulty breathing and heart damage.

TrueBeam™: TrueBeam’s sophisticated software and respiratory tracking system allows us to confirm the exact location of the lung tumor, track its movement in real time and avoid damage to healthy surrounding tissue.

Next topic: What are the statistics about lung cancer?