Radiation Therapy

The Radiation Oncology Department at the Schwab Family Cancer Center (SFCC) plays a central role in treating adults with cancer. Radiation therapy is part of treatment for more than half of all our patients with cancer. We have innovative therapies available that target doses of high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells.  

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Radiation Therapy Services

The team utilizes state-of-the-art technology to protect your healthy cells while you undergo treatment. The idea of radiation therapy may make you feel anxious because of side effect and safety concerns. Every Schwab Family Cancer Center radiation therapy treatment plan will be customized for your specific needs and will be delivered by a team of highly skilled experts.

How Radiation Therapy is Used in People with Cancer

A physician may suggest radiation therapy be considered during your treatment. The reasons may include the following:

  • As the primary treatment for the specific cancer
  • Prior to surgery, to shrink a cancerous tumor (neoadjuvant therapy)
  • After a surgery, to stop any cancer cells that remain from growing (adjuvant therapy)
  • In combination with chemotherapy
  • To reduce symptoms caused by advanced stage cancers

Advanced Treatment Options

The Radiation Oncology Department at the Schwab Family Cancer Center has access to advanced technologies in planning and delivering radiation therapy.

The team will explain what type of radiation therapy you will receive and his reason for selecting it. Some individuals may benefit from more than one type. The following therapy options are offered:

3-D Conformal Radiation Therapy

3–D conformal radiation is a radiation therapy technique that sculpts radiation beams to the shape of a tumor. This is ideal for treating tumors that have irregular shapes or that lie close to healthy tissues and organs.

Using this radiation technology, therapists are able to view a tumor in 3–D with the help of image guidance. Based on these images, therapists then deliver radiation beams from several directions to the tumor.

Matching the radiation dose to the exact dimensions of the tumor allows therapists to deliver a higher dose while limiting radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissues. This treatment regimen typically is delivered over a four- to eight-week period. The total dose of radiation and number of treatments depend on the size, location, and type of cancer as well as your general health and other current medical therapy treatments.

Linear Accelerator

Safe and effective linear accelerators can treat any organ or body part with high-energy X-ray beams that destroy cancer cells. It also blocks the field of radiation from reaching non-affected cells. This technology comes equipped with dynamic targeting image-guided radiotherapy that allows the radiation therapists to detect the exact location of the tumor in your body. It also allows the therapists to position you directly in the center of the radiation beam.

While receiving radiation therapy with our linear accelerator, you lie on a treatment couch while SFCC therapists position them according to the location of the tumor. This is important because a tumor can move during treatment and between sessions. After positioning, the therapists move to an adjoining room equipped with a microphone and closed-circuit monitor so you remain in constant communication.

With this technology, it’s possible to treat tumors near vital organs such as the heart, spinal column, lungs, and salivary glands. The result is fewer side effects and improved life quality once treatment is completed.

Intensity Modulation Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

This advanced, highly precise technique targets tumors while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue from unnecessary exposure. It is especially beneficial for treating tumors in close proximity to vital organs that were previously considered untreatable.

IMRT uses computer-generated images to direct a radiation dose with pinpoint accuracy to the shape and depth of the tumor and reduce the adverse effects of the dose to the adjacent healthy tissue. As a result, you will typically experience fewer treatment-related side effects of high-dose radiation and are more likely to maintain your normal lifestyles during treatment.

IMRT treatment regimens typically are delivered over a four- to eight-week period. The total dose of radiation and number of treatments depend on the size, location, and type of cancer as well as your general health and other current medical therapy treatments.

Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT)

Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy delivers precise, high doses of radiation to a tumor. It is a specialized technique used to treat tumors in the lung, liver, and spine while minimizing effects to the surrounding normal, healthy tissues. SBRT requires only one to five treatments over one to two weeks with similar total doses of radiation.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS)

SRS is generally used to treat small tumors contained in localized areas of the brain or spinal cord, as well as blood vessel abnormalities in the brain. With SRS, radiation is focused to the outline of the tumor to protect nearby healthy tissue, which is especially important for areas in the brain. SRS requires only one to five treatments over one to two weeks with similar total doses of radiation.

Brachytherapy

This equipment treats cancer by positioning radioactive sources next to the area requiring treatment or directly into it. While the affected area receives high doses of radiation, brachytherapy protects the surrounding area. An alternative option, high-dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy delivers intense radiation through catheters, needles, or other applicators.

HDR brachytherapy has proven especially successful in treating skin, endometrium, and cervical cancer. Because it is highly targeted, this type of radiation therapy allows the technician to deliver high doses of radiation to the tumor, while leaving surrounding tissue unaffected. This improves results, decreases treatment time, and potentially limits complications from treatment. It also allows for the treatment of challenging cancer cases that doctors could not treat in the past. In some cases, HDR brachytherapy may be appropriate for palliative care.

OurRadiation Oncology team at the SFCC are happy to answer any questions you or your loved one may have at any time.

PET/CT Scan

SFCC Radiation Oncology therapists use the PET/CT scan to help perform image-guided therapy (IGRT). This allows for precise tumor location. Thanks to IGRT, SFCC therapists can quickly determine tumor movement during a radiation therapy session and alert your oncologist to change the treatment plan accordingly.

The Radiation Oncology Team at the SFCC is happy to answer any questions a patient or family member may have at any time.

The Appointment Process

The Schwab Family Cancer Center works hard to make the process of radiation therapy as comfortable and stress-free as possible. The first step in this process is to schedule an appointment with the board-certified radiation oncologist. You will receive a questionnaire by mail that should be completed before meeting with our radiation oncologist for the first time. Understanding your complete health history ensures that the team can plan and provide you with the most effective course of radiation therapy. A member of the SFCC support staff will also contact you to schedule your appointment.

What to Expect

Bring the completed questionnaire to your first appointment. At this session, a nurse will check your vital signs, go over paperwork, and complete a health assessment. You will also receive information about your individual treatment plan and what to expect in terms of the procedure itself and the side effects it produces.

Next, you will meet with our physician to determine the best course of radiation therapy. This first meeting takes approximately one to two hours, depending on your specific diagnosis. Some individuals require a PET/CT simulation at this point, which helps to aid in treatment planning. A PET/CT simulation takes approximately 30 minutes.

You are typically asked to change into a gown once radiation treatments start. To start treatment, you begin with the linear accelerator. Radiation therapists take films on the first day of treatment and once or twice a week after that. This is to compare films and ensure accuracy. Each treatment session lasts between 10 and 15 minutes. Treatment occurs each weekday for three to eight weeks, during which time our physician will meet with you weekly and continues to follow up for approximately five years.