What Are The Types Of External
The most common type of radiation therapy is external-beam radiation therapy. It delivers radiation from a machine outside the body. It can be used to 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 nearby.
Most radiation therapy treatments are given every weekday for several weeks. Form-fitting supports or a plastic mesh mask are used for radiation therapy to the head, neck, or brain to help people stay still and make sure the beam reaches the same area each session.
The different types of external-beam radiation therapy are:
How Radiation Therapy Works
Radiation Therapy is the use of high energy radiation, primarily x-rays, to kill cancer cells. In high doses, radiation causes damage to cells by interfering with the cells ability to grow and reproduce. Cells that are growing and multiplying are very sensitive to the effects of radiation. Because cancer cells reproduce more frequently than normal cells, they are more likely to be damaged by radiation. Normal cells can also be affected by radiation, but normal cells tend to be able to recover from radiation damage.
When radiation treatments are given for cancer, special care is taken to spare as much normal tissue as possible from radiation exposure. The radiation dose is carefully measured and aimed at the tumor to kill as many cancer cells with as little damage to normal tissue as possible.
Radiation Therapy can be used with surgery, chemotherapy and/or biologic therapy to cure, control or relieve symptoms in patients with cancer.
What Happens After Treatment
With internal radiation therapy, youll typically go home after a short recovery the same day. Occasionally, you may need to stay in the hospital while your body sheds trace amounts of radiation. After systemic radiation therapy, you may secrete small amounts of radiation through body fluids, like sweat, pee and blood.
If you receive IV or permanent internal radiation therapy, theres a small risk of exposing others to radiation. Follow your radiation therapy teams guidance about how much contact you should have with others after radiotherapy.
You should be able to go about your regular daily activities before and after EBRT. Theres no risk of exposing others to radiation.
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Are There Alternative Treatment Options For Cancer
There are many treatments and combinations of treatments used for cancer. Radiation can be used alone or with other treatment strategies like chemotherapy and surgery. Alternative therapies and adjunctive treatments are always being researched and developed, but you should talk with your medical team about any new treatments you would like to try. They can also guide you if you are interested in participating in a clinical trial for new therapies.
To Treat Symptoms Caused By Advanced Cancer
Sometimes cancer has spread too much to be cured. But some of these tumors can still be treated to make them smaller so that the person can feel better. Radiation might help relieve problems like pain, trouble swallowing or breathing, or bowel blockages that can be caused by advanced cancer. This is called palliative radiation.
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Radiation Therapy Side Effects
Radiation not only kills or slows the growth of cancer cells, it can also affect nearby healthy cells. Damage to healthy cells can cause side effects.
Many people who get radiation therapy have fatigue. Fatigue is feeling exhausted and worn out. It can happen all at once or come on slowly. People feel fatigue in different ways and you may feel more or less fatigue than someone else who is getting the same amount of radiation therapy to the same part of the body. See Fatigue and Cancer Treatment to learn more.
Other radiation therapy side effects you may have depend on the part of the body that is treated. To see which side effects you might expect, find the part of your body being treated in the following chart. Many of the side effects in the list link to more information in the Side Effects section. Discuss this chart with your doctor or nurse. Ask them about the side effects that you might expect.
Radiation Therapy Combined With Surgery
When radiation is combined with surgery, the radiation treatments may be given before or after surgery. When it is done before surgery it is used to shrink the size of a tumor to make removal easier. More commonly the radiation treatments are given after surgery to reduce the chance that the cancer will come back, among other reasons.
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Types Of Cancer That Are Treated With Radiation Therapy
External beam radiation therapy is used to treat many types of cancer.
Brachytherapy is most often used to treat cancers of the head and neck, breast, cervix, prostate, and eye.
A systemic radiation therapy called radioactive iodine, or I-131, is most often used to treat certain types of thyroid cancer.
Another type of systemic radiation therapy, called targeted radionuclide therapy, is used to treat some patients who have advanced prostate cancer or gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumor . This type of treatment may also be referred to as molecular radiotherapy.
How Much Radiation Therapy Costs
Radiation therapy can be expensive. It uses complex machines and involves the services of many health care providers. The exact cost of your radiation therapy depends on the cost of health care where you live, what type of radiation therapy you get, and how many treatments you need.
Talk with your health insurance company about what services it will pay for. Most insurance plans pay for radiation therapy. To learn more, talk with the business office at the clinic or hospital where you go for treatment. If you need financial assistance, there are organizations that may be able to help. To find such organizations, go to the National Cancer Institute database, Organizations that Offer Support Services and search for “financial assistance.” Or call toll-free 1-800-4-CANCER to ask for information on organizations that may help.
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How Is Radiation Therapy Used In Cancer Care
A radiation oncologist may use external beam radiation therapy or brachytherapy to treat cancer. External beam radiation therapy can be generated by a linear accelerator . Proton therapy is another form of external beam radiation therapy that uses cyclotrons or synchrotrons to produce charged atoms that destroy tumors.
Radiation therapy given by radioactive sources that are put inside the patient is called brachytherapy. The radioactive sources are sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters, and implanted directly into or near a tumor on a temporary or permanent basis. Brachytherapy is a common treatment for cancers of the prostate, uterus, cervix or breast.
Some cancer patients may be treated with radiation as their primary treatment. In some cases, radiation therapy is given at the same time as chemotherapy. Chemotherapy used with radiation therapy can improve the local response and reduce metastatic disease.
In other cases, radiation therapy is given before or after surgery.
What Is Internal Radiation Therapy
Internal radiation therapy is also called brachytherapy. This type of radiation therapy is when radioactive material is placed into the cancer or surrounding tissue. Implants may be permanent or temporary. This treatment may require a hospital stay.
The different types of internal radiation therapy include:
Permanent implants. These are tiny steel seeds that contain radioactive material. The capsules are about the size of a grain of rice. They deliver most of the radiation therapy around the implant area. However, some radiation may exit the patient’s body. This requires safety measures to protect others from radiation exposure. Over time, the implants lose radioactivity. The inactive seeds remain the body.
Temporary internal radiation therapy. This type of radiation therapy can be given by needle, through a tube called a catheter, and through special applicators. The radiation stays in the body for anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. Most people receive internal radiation therapy for just a few minutes. Sometimes, internal radiation therapy can be given for more time. If so, they stay in a private room to limit other people’s exposure to radiation.
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Does Radiation Therapy Cause Side Effects
Radiation can damage healthy cells. This damage can cause side effects such as skin problems, tiredness, and anemia. The type of side effects someone might get depends on the dose of radiation, whether it was internal or external, and the area treated.
Many patients have no side effects. When problems do happen:
- Most will go away after radiation therapy ends.
- They usually aren’t serious.
- Treatment can help control them.
Radiation therapy can also cause long-term side effects if it affects the normal cells surrounding the tumor. They can include learning issues, vision problems, hearing loss, and other problems.
Types Of Radiation Therapy
The kind of radiation therapy you get depends on things like:
- Type of cancer you have
- How big your tumors are
- Where your tumors are
- Other treatments you’re getting
The two main types of radiation therapy for cancer are:
External beam radiation therapy. A large machine aims radiation beams from outside your body to a cancer tumor from many angles. It can treat a variety of cancers.
The machine can be quite noisy, but it won’t touch you. It sends radiation to the specific area where there’s cancer. It uses computer programs to analyze imaging scans and target treatments to the shape of your tumor.
A visit usually lasts 30 minutes to an hour, most of which is spent getting you in the correct position. The treatment itself usually takes 5 minutes or less.
Most people get a dose 5 days a week. Your schedule may vary. It depends on the type of beam used and other things, including the type, size, and location of the cancer.
External beam radiation therapy won’t make you radioactive, so you can safely spend time around other people.
Internal radiation therapy. You’ll get radiation placed inside you in either solid or liquid form. You might swallow or get an IV injection of liquid radioactive iodine, which will travel throughout your body to seek and kill cancer cells. This is called systemic therapy. Doctors use it most often to treat thyroid cancer.
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What Happens During External Radiation Therapy
For external radiation therapy, teens usually go to the hospital or treatment center 4 to 5 days a week for several weeks. They’ll get small daily doses of radiation, which helps protect the normal cells from damage. The weekend breaks help the cells recover from the radiation.
If you get radiation therapy, the radiation therapist will mark an area on your skin with ink. This “tattoo” helps show the treatment area.
Most of the time that you’ll spend on the radiation treatment table involves positioning. The treatment itself takes only minutes. When you’re in the right position:
- The radiation therapist leaves the room.
- The machine delivers the right amount of radiation to kill the cells.
Parents aren’t allowed in the treatment room, but can wait nearby for you during therapy.
Is Radiation Therapy Safe For Patients And Their Families
Doctors have safely and effectively used radiation therapy to treat cancer for more than 100 years. Like other cancer treatments, radiation therapy causes side effects. Talk with your health care team about what to expect and what you are experiencing during and after your treatment. While most people feel no pain when each treatment is being delivered, effects of treatment slowly build up over time and may include discomfort, skin changes, or other side effects, depending on where in the body treatment is being delivered.
Having radiation therapy slightly increases the risk of developing a second cancer later in life. But for many people, radiation therapy eliminates the existing cancer. This benefit is greater than the small risk that the treatment could cause a new cancer in the future.
During external-beam radiation therapy, the patient does not give off any radiation after treatment sessions. Any radiation remains in the the treatment room.
However, internal radiation therapy causes the patient to give off radiation. As a result, visitors should follow these safety measures, unless other directions are given by the patient’s doctor:
Do not visit the patient if you are pregnant or younger than 18
Stay at least 6 feet from the patient’s bed
Limit your stay to 30 minutes or less each day
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Proving The Feasibility Of Proton Flash
To test their hypothesis and to understand the biological effects of proton beams, the researchers designed and built a radiotherapy apparatus that could deliver FLASH or standard radiation dose rates using double scattered protons in a CTdefined geometry.
The researchers used a single pencil beam to create a double scatter system, thus bypassing a difficulty that had stopped previous research teams from creating the necessary radiation dosage or field size.
Then, the team applied the new apparatus in a mouse model of pancreatic cancer and found that it successfully targeted pancreatic cancer flank tumors while reducing gastrointestinal damage.
Weve been able to develop specialized systems in the research room to generate FLASH doses, demonstrate that we can control the proton beam, and perform a large number of experiments to help us understand the implications of FLASH radiation that we simply could not have done with a more traditional research setup, explains Dr. Metz.
This is the first time anyone has published findings that demonstrate the feasibility of using protons rather than electrons to generate FLASH doses with an accelerator currently used for clinical treatments.
Dr. James M. Metz
Next, the researchers plan to design an apparatus that would deliver FLASH in this manner to humans.
How Does It Work
Cells in your body are always dividing and making new copies. When you have cancer, though, some cells start to divide way too fast.
That’s where radiation therapy can help. It uses high-energy particles to make tiny breaks in the DNA of cancer cells to destroy or damage them, so they can no longer make new copies.
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Side Effects Of Chemotherapy
- Fatigue: Chemotherapy can drain the body of its energy, making people feel tired despite large amounts of sleep
- Hair Loss: Some, but not all, chemotherapy affects hair cells causing hair loss.
- Nausea: Nausea and vomiting are common with chemotherapy and varying in severity though often respond to medications.
- Other complications: The possible development of secondary cancers
What’s The Goal Of Radiation Therapy
The aim is to treat your cancer by slowing or stopping tumor growth. Your doctor may sometimes suggest you get radiation therapy to shrink a tumor before you get surgery. Or they may recommend it after surgery to keep a tumor from coming back.
If cancer cells have spread to other parts of your body, radiation therapy can kill them before they grow into new tumors.
If you have a cancer that can’t be cured, your doctor may still suggest you use “palliative” radiation therapy. The goal is to shrink tumors and ease symptoms of your disease.
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Does Radiation Therapy Cause Cancer
It has long been known that radiation therapy can slightly raise the risk of getting another cancer. Its one of the possible side effects of treatment that doctors have to think about when they weigh the benefits and risks of each treatment. For the most part, the risk of a second cancer from these treatments is small and is outweighed by the benefit of treating the cancer, but the risk is not zero. This is one of the many reasons each case is different and each person must be part of deciding which kind of treatment is right for them. The risk is different depending on where the radiation treatment will be in the body.
If your cancer care team recommends radiation treatment, its because they believe that the benefits youll get from it will outweigh the possible side effects. Still, this is your decision to make. Knowing as much as you can about the possible benefits and risks can help you be sure that radiation therapy is best for you.
How To Prepare For Radiation Therapy
Each patients experience with radiation therapy differs depending on the type of technology used, the type of cancer being treated and other factors. Before your course of treatment begins, your doctor will explain the type of radiation equipment to be used and discuss your treatment schedule and length of treatment. Youll also undergo an examination.
Your doctor may place marks on your skin or fiducial markers near the tumor to allow him or her to quickly find the target treatment area. You may also be fitted with devices designed to immobilize parts of the body during treatment. These steps are intended to help doctors better focus radiation more directly on the tumor and avoid exposing surrounding healthy tissue.
In most cases, radiation therapy is delivered in an outpatient procedure over a period of days or weeks. Some patients may undergo treatment every day for a period of time. Others may be scheduled over several weeks.
Radiation therapy is typically a relatively quick and painless treatment, and many patients are able to resume their normal activities before and after treatment. Over time, patients may need to adjust while experiencing common side effects, such as fatigue or irritation to the skin.
Cancer treatments are often stressful, upset your normal routines and take a physical toll. Its important to take steps to help stay physically strong during the course of treatment, including by:
Expert cancer care
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