WHAT IS RADIATION THERAPY
Understanding the Technology
Radiation therapy has been used safely and effectively for treating cancer for many decades. This therapy involves using various forms of radiation to damage the genetic material inside cancer cells which limits their ability to successfully reproduce. Once these damaged cancer cells die, they are naturally eliminated from the body. Although radiation therapy affects both cancer and normal cells, it has a much greater effect on the cancer cells as cancer cells are unable to repair themselves the way normal, healthy cells can. Our physicians carefully develop a treatment plan to ensure the radiation is precisely delivered to the tumor area and to protect as much of the surrounding, normal tissue as possible.
How Radiation Cancer Therapy Is Used
Depending upon your situation, your doctor may recommend using radiation cancer therapy in several different ways. When the end goal is to cure the cancer, radiation therapy may be used to:
- Destroy tumors which have not yet spread to other parts of the body.
- Reduce the probability that cancer will come back once you’ve undergone surgery or chemotherapy by killing small amounts of cancer than might remain.
- Shrink the tumor before undergoing surgery.
In some cases, the goal is to reduce the symptoms caused by growing tumors and to improve your quality of life. This type of radiation therapy is call palliative care or palliation. In this type of case, cancer radiation therapy may be used to:
- Decrease the size of tumors that are lowering your life quality such a tumor in the lung that is causing breathing difficulties.
- Relieve pain by reducing the size of a tumor.
- Prevent cancer from weakening a bone and causing pain or a fracture.
During your first visit with us, your physician will speak with you about your treatment so you have a good understanding of your treatment goals and what to expect while spending time with us.
Types of Radiation Cancer Therapy
External Beam Radiation Therapy
External beam radiation therapy is a method used to deliver a beam or several beams of high energy radiation through the skin to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The machine that delivers the radiation is called a linear accelerator or linac. The team at Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center carefully and precisely designs the size and shape of each beam as well as how the radiation is directed at your body to ensure you are receiving the most effective treatment directed at your tumor while sparing the surrounding normal tissue.
These treatments are typically given five days a week (on weekdays) for several weeks to minimize side effects. This allows enough radiation to be delivered to kill the cancer, while allowing ample time for normal, healthy cells to recover. Each round of treatment takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete. The process of undergoing this daily treatment is much like getting a routine, diagnostic X-ray taken as it is a short, outpatient visit that causes no discomfort to the patient.
Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy
Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy or IMRT is an advanced mode of high precision radiation therapy. Each radiation beam is broken up into many “beamlets” and the radiation intensity of each beamlet can be adjusted individually. IMRT enables us to further reduce the amount of radiation received by healthy tissue near the tumor. In some cases, this may also safely allow a higher dose of radiation to be delivered to the tumor which potentially can increase the chance of a cure while minimizing side effects.
Image Guided Radiation Therapy
At Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center, we utilize Image Guided Radiation Therapy or IGRT to help ensure that each radiation treatment is delivered with the utmost accuracy. The position of a tumor can move between treatments due to organ motion such as lung breathing or bladder filling. IGRT guides the radiation treatment with daily imaging using X-rays or cone-beam CT, taken in the treatment room just before administering each radiation treatment. Even small difference of less than 1 millimeter can be detected and adjusted accordingly.
Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy
SBRT is one of the most advanced forms of radiation therapy available for cancer patients. This radiation therapy incorporates a specially designed mapping system that tracks the exact location of the target tumor with pinpoint accuracy. Using this technology, our physicians can treat targeted areas with high doses of radiation in fewer treatments while damaging less healthy tissue. Most SBRT patients receive just one to five treatments over the course of several days, although some may require a few more. SBRT can be used to treat small tumors that cannot be surgically removed or treated with conventional radiation therapy.
*Some content provided by the American Society of Radiation Oncology and/or Elekta Oncology.
Our physicians are members of Anchorage Associates In Radiation Medicine (AARM) which is a team of radiation oncologists who deliver the most advanced radiation therapy treatments available to cancer patients in Alaska. Our physicians have access to another form of advanced radiation therapy called the CyberKnife System at the Alaska CyberKnife Center at Providence Cancer Center in Anchorage. The CyberKnife System uses precise, targeted doses of radiation for the treatment of both cancerous and noncancerous tumors.
Your First Visit to Our Center in Soldotna
During your first visit to our office, one of our physicians will meet with you to discuss your treatment in detail to ensure you understand the goals of your treatment. We encourage you to ask questions and bring up any concerns you may have. We are committed to always speaking honestly and openly with you. If you have any questions about radiation therapy or what to expect during your first visit with us, please do not hesitate to contact us as we are always available to speak with you.