Over the past decade, radiation therapy has advanced significantly and continues to be one of the most sophisticated and ever changing aspects of cancer care. As new research is explored, new standards of treatment are discovered and adopted. The newest radiation technologies allow for a more accurate, targeted course of treatment; less damage to surrounding healthy tissue and, in some cases, fewer total number of treatment sessions.
Radiation therapy is one of the most common and effective cancer treatments available. It directly targets a tumor to eradicate the cancerous cells. To do that, radiation therapy uses specialized, high-tech equipment to deliver high doses of radiation to cancer cells, damaging their ability to grow and spread, hence stopping further development of the tumor.
Radiation therapy is delivered by radiation oncologists—physicians who specialize in radiation therapy—along with a team of specialists. At Texas Oncology, our radiation oncologists use the most advanced treatment planning systems and state-of-the-art radiation technology to fight cancer that is available today.
Before a patient ever receives a radiation treatment, a customized treatment plan is developed based on the patient’s particular diagnosis. The plan includes determining the most effective type and amount of radiation treatment.
INTERNAL V. EXTERNAL RADIATION
Patients may be treated with radiation therapy alone or in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and/or surgery. Radiation can be delivered in two different ways to patients—externally or internally.
External radiation therapy uses high-energy X-ray or electron beams delivered by a machine that is aimed at specific points on the patient’s body. The specific cancer type often dictates the type of radiation modality, such as intensity modulated radiation therapy or stereotactic radiosurgery. External radiation is non-invasive and treats a wide variety of cancers.
Internal radiation therapy involves implanting radioactive material directly into the patient’s body. Examples of internal radiation therapy include a seed or surgical implant. Internal radiation is typically used to treat prostate, gynecological, breast, head and neck, and esophageal cancers.
ADVANCES IN RADIATION THERAPY
Today’s radiation therapy is designed to reduce side effects by more precisely targeting tumors, which allows for higher doses of radiation to be delivered to cancerous cells without damaging surrounding tissue. Significant advancements in radiation therapy include stereotactic radiosurgery, allowing radiation to safely target brain and head/neck tumors, and stereotactic body radiation therapy, which delivers extremely targeted, high doses of radiation to small, well-defined tumors, reduces the number of treatment sessions needed and minimizes damage to surrounding tissue.
Radiation oncology continues to evolve with the development of new technologies, improved equipment and other medical breakthroughs discovered through clinical trials. Today more than ever, physicians have a wide array of sophisticated radiation options available so that treatment may be customized for each patient in order to deliver the best possible outcome.
Rogelio Salinas, M.D.