Specialized Therapies For Individualized Care

Photo - Types of Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a safe and effective method for treating a wide variety of cancers, using concentrated doses of radiation to kill off cancer cells while preserving more healthy tissue compared to other treatment options. When cancer cells are exposed to radiation, the genetic material inside the cells are damaged, which then eliminates the cells ability to reproduce. Since cancer cells do not have the natural ability to heal and rebuild themselves like healthy cells do, these cells eventually die off. While treatment does affect some surrounding healthy cells in the tissue, they will be able to regenerate after a short recovery period.

There are different types of radiation therapy, which vary in terms of delivery method and sometimes effectiveness depending on the case. At the Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, we work with our patients to create an individualized treatment plan, to ensure that we match them with the form of radiation therapy that best meets their needs.

Different Treatment Approaches With Radiation Therapy

Since every patient and case is unique, a radiation oncologist will work with the patient and their other doctors to determine the best approach to maximize the benefit they would get from the treatment. There are two main approaches that are defined by their end goal, which is either curing the patient, or reducing symptoms.

If the goal is to cure the patient’s cancer, the radiation oncologist will use the various types of radiation therapy to:

  • Destroy tumors that have not yet spread throughout the body
  • Reduce the chance that the patient’s cancer will return by killing off remaining cancer cells (often following surgery or chemotherapy).
  • Shrink the tumor before undergoing surgery.

In certain cases, the cancer cannot be cured, so the goal becomes reducing the symptoms to give the patient a better quality of life. Some of the possible applications for radiation therapy to reduce symptoms include:

  • Shrinking the size of tumors that are directly affecting quality of life. (ex. A tumor on the lung that affects breathing).
  • Provide pain relief for the patient by reducing the size of a tumor.
  • Prevent cancer from weakening a bone and causing pain or a fracture.

With both of these different approaches, it is common for patients to undergo other forms of treatment as well such as chemotherapy or surgery. This is because it will often increase the effectiveness of treatment and improve chances of curing it.

The Different Methods Of Radiation Cancer Therapy

External Beam Radiation Therapy

This method channels radiation using an external machine, concentrating that radiation into a beam that can be aimed at the area on the patient’s body affected by their cancer. The beam passes through the skin to expose the cancer cells to the radiation directly, killing the cells and effectively shrinking tumors. The oncologist and medical staff can control the size and shape of the beam, adjusting it as necessary for different tumor sizes and locations. This treatment method is has precision accuracy, which allows for the preservation of healthy tissue by limiting the amount of radiation exposure those healthy cells endure.

The frequency and length of a typical treatment session can vary for each patient, but typically they last about 15 to 20 minutes and occur five days per week over the course of a few weeks.

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy or IMRT is an advanced mode of high precision radiation therapy. While it is similar to External Beam Radiation Therapy in the fact that it still uses a beam, it actually has improved precision since the radiation beam is broken up into many “beamlets”. These beamlets can be adjusted individually in terms of radiation intensity, so your oncologist can focus on areas with higher concentrations of cancer cells, while controlling the radiation near healthy tissue more precisely. This added level of precision may allow for higher doses of radiation, which can increase cure chances.

Image Guided Radiation Therapy

At Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, our team uses Image Guided Radiation Therapy or IGRT to provide our patients with precise and effective treatment. The advantage of IGRT is that it tracks the position of the tumor before each treatment using daily imaging from X-rays or cone-beam CT scans. The reason this tracking is beneficial is because tumors can actually move around before treatment, due to things like the lungs filling while breathing or the bladder filling up. Even a millimeter can make a difference when administering the radiation, so if we’re tracking the position regularly, we can ensure a higher degree of accuracy.

Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy

SBRT is one of the most advanced forms of radiation therapy available for cancer patients incorporating a mapping system that tracks the exact location of the tumor constantly to ensure that the radiation in administered exactly where it’s needed. Thanks to the precision of this treatment method, it's possible for patients to need fewer treatment sessions since radiation oncologists can safely use higher doses of radiation. Treatment with SBRT can range between just one to five treatments over several days. This method is most commonly used to treat tumors that cannot be removed through surgery or treated using other methods.

*Some content provided by the American Society of Radiation Oncology and/or Elekta Oncology.

Visit Your Local Juneau Cancer Care Facility

If you have any questions about radiation oncology, or if it’s the right treatment for you, just contact us to schedule an appointment here at our local cancer center in Juneau, AK. We look forward to helping you find the strength and hope that you need to keep fighting in your battle against cancer.