Radiation oncology is a medical specialty that uses high-energy radiation beams to either treat cancer or reduce pain and other symptoms associated with cancer. The doctors use high-energy X-rays which damage the DNA inside the cancer cells. The DNA-damaged cancer cells fail to reproduce and eventually die.

The Radiation Oncology team includes highly trained and qualified radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, radiation oncology nurses, and supportive care team members. They use advanced and innovative technologies to deliver safe and effective radiation to cancer patients with minimal side effects.

Radiation therapy is among the most common and effective treatments for cancer. Radiation therapy is also called radiotherapy, irradiation, and x-ray therapy. Usually, radiation therapy is used alone, or with other treatments as well. Other treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, hormones, or targeted therapy.

How does Radiation Therapy work?

Cancer cell DNA is damaged by using high doses of radiation that kill cancer cells or slow down their growth. Thus, the damaged DNA of cancer cells stops dividing or dies. These damaged cells, when they die are removed from the body.

Radiation therapy does not kill cancer cells right away. The treatment may take days or weeks to damage the DNA so that cells eventually die. Then, cancer cells keep dying for weeks or months after radiation therapy ends.

Types of Radiation Therapy

There are two main types of radiation therapy, external beam and internal.

Factors that determine the type of radiation therapy:

  • The Cancer Type
  • Tumor Size
  • Location of the tumor in the body
  • How close the tumor is to normal tissues that are sensitive to radiation
  • Your general health and medical history
  • Whether you will have other types of cancer treatment
  • Other factors, such as your age and other medical conditions

External-beam Radiation Therapy:

It is the most common type of radiation therapy. It delivers radiation from a machine outside the body. It can treat large areas of the body if needed.

A machine called a linear accelerator, or LINAC creates the radiation beam for x-ray or photon radiation therapy. Special computer software adjusts the beam’s size and shape. This helps target the tumor while avoiding healthy tissue near the cancer cells.

Internal Radiation Therapy:

Internal radiation therapy is also called brachytherapy. This type of radiation therapy is when radioactive material is placed into cancer or surrounding tissue. Implants may be permanent or temporary and may require a hospital stay.

The key highlights of this department include:

  • Conventional radiation therapy: It uses high-energy radiation beams in the form of X-rays, gamma rays, or photons to destroy the tumor cells or to reduce the chance of its recurrence. Radiation therapy is often combined with chemotherapy for effective results. This is known as chemo-radiation.
  • 3D Conformal Radiation Therapy (3DCRT): It is a technique that uses advanced imaging technologies to generate three-dimensional images of a tumor and nearby organs. Multi-leaf collimators are used to shape the dose to the tumor target and reduce the dose to the surrounding organs. This improves the accuracy of treatment over conventional treatment.
  • Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT): It is an advanced radiation treatment that uses computerized programs to calculate and deliver precise radiation to tumors while reducing radiation exposure to healthy tissues. IMRT is widely recommended in the treatment of head and neck, pelvic, and thoracic tumors.
  • Volumetric-Modulated ARC Therapy (VMAT)/ RapidArc: This is an advanced form of Intensity-modulated radiation therapy that is used for delivering radiation therapy with varying intensities in the shortest possible time aimed at tumors near sensitive body organs.
  • Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS): This is a highly advanced precision radiotherapy technique that delivers very high doses to ablate small tumors. It’s not a surgery in the traditional sense as it does not involve a skin incision. It delivers a precise amount of radiation beam to treat small tumors in the brain. When SRS is performed to treat tumors located in other regions of the body. It is referred to as Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy.
  • Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT): It involves the delivery of single high-dose radiation treatment or a few fractionated radiation treatments from many different angles around the body. SBRT is used to treat small, early-stage lung cancer and pancreatic cancer. It is also used for cancers that have spread to the lung, liver, adrenal gland, or spine.
  • Brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy): In this therapy, the radiation source is placed inside the body near the tumor to deliver high-dose radiation. Depending on the site of cancer, radiations can be delivered by intracavitary, intraluminal, and multi-catheter methods.
  • Extracorporeal Radiotherapy (ECRT): It is usually done as a part of limb-salvage surgery to save the limb. This procedure involves taking out the cancerous bone, treating it with radiation, and then placing it again.

Questions to ask your doctor about Radiation Therapy

  • What’s the purpose of radiation treatment for my type of cancer? To destroy or shrink the tumor? To prevent or stop cancer spread? To lower the chance cancer may come back?
  • What’s the chance that cancer will spread or come back if I do – or don’t – get radiation therapy?
  • What type of radiation therapy will I get?
  • Are there other treatment options?
  • What can I do to be ready for treatment?
  • Can I eat before treatment or do I need to avoid certain foods before getting treatment?
  • Do I need to follow a certain diet while I'm on treatment?
  • How often is it given? How long will each treatment take? How long will I be on radiation?
  • What should I do if I have trouble getting to treatment because of ride problems or weather?
  • What side effects am I likely to have, when will they start, and how long will they last?
  • Will treatment and/or side effects change how I look?
  • What long-term side effects might I have?
  • Will I be at higher risk for any other health problems in the future?
  • Will I be radioactive during or after my treatment?
  • Are any special precautions needed during or after my treatment?

Questioning and the answers you get give you clarity. Having clarity is a sign of an optimistic patient and a fightback mindset. Let’s fight to defeat cancer.

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