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Radiation Therapy Offers Targeted Treatment, Fewer Side Effects

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Illustration of cancer cells

Radiation therapy for cancer has undergone remarkable changes over the years. Many patients require fewer treatments, with greater precision to kill cancer cells while preserving healthy tissue.

“This progress has not only improved the effectiveness of cancer treatment. It has also led to a substantial reduction in treatment time and side effects,” says Daniel Spratt, MD, chairman of radiation oncology at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center.

Shorter, More Targeted Treatment

Radiation therapy has always been an effective treatment, but in the past it came with significant side effects. “Radiation therapy successfully treated tumors, but was not advanced enough to spare healthy tissue, leading to a variety of side effects,” says Dr. Spratt. In addition, many types of cancer required weeks of daily radiation treatment.

These days, radiation therapy is almost unrecognizable. It is far more precise and targeted, with shorter treatment times and fewer side effects. “We’re able to give shorter courses of treatment for many types of cancer, thanks to advancements in technology,” says Dr. Spratt. “They allow for the precise targeting of cancer cells while sparing nearby healthy tissue.”

“What’s remarkable is that radiation therapy is increasingly used in place of surgery when appropriate,” says Dr. Spratt. “It’s also used in combination with surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells. It’s a very effective, non-invasive therapy.”

Types of Radiation Therapy

Dr. Spratt shares more about the types of radiation therapy and how they may be used for common cancer types:

Intensity-Modulated Radiation. Uses computer-controlled linear accelerators to deliver radiation in multiple beams with varying intensities. It allows radiation oncologists to customize the radiation dose to match the shape of the tumor, sparing surrounding healthy tissue from damage.

Image-Guided Radiation. Uses imaging technology such as a CT scan or MRI to target tumors in areas of the body that move, such the lungs, and tumors that are very close to sensitive structures and organs.

Stereotactic Body Radiation. Delivers high doses of radiation in just a few sessions. It’s used to treat a variety of cancers, frequently instead of surgery. The therapy is often used for cancers of the prostate, lung, liver and pancreas, and cancers that have spread to the brain, lungs and spine.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery. A specialized form of radiation therapy that uses dozens of tiny radiation beams to treat brain metastases and some benign and malignant brain conditions. It involves a single, highly accurate, high-dose treatment session.

Cancers That Radiation Now Treats

  • Treatment of historically radiation-resistant tumors, such as kidney cancer, sarcoma, lung cancer, prostate cancer and gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Treatment of cancers that have spread (metastatic disease).
  • Radiopharmaceutical therapy, a type of drug that delivers radiation therapy systemically to specific cancer cells.

Radiation therapy is increasingly being used for certain heart conditions, movement disorders, mental health conditions (such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder) and osteoarthritis in older adults. Researchers are also investigating radiation therapy for spinal cord injuries.

When Radiation Is Used Less Often

  • Low-risk prostate cancer was commonly treated with either surgery or radiation therapy. Studies have now shown that active surveillance, or monitoring of the cancer, is preferred and these patients can avoid immediate treatment.
  • Carefully selected older patients with early-stage, hormone-receptor positive, low-risk breast cancer can safely skip radiation.

“There are more indications for radiation therapy now than ever before and it’s expanding,” says Dr. Spratt. “As technology continues to advance, we can expect even more exciting developments in the field of radiation therapy, offering hope to millions of cancer patients worldwide.”

Related Links

At University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, our care team offers the most advanced forms of cancer care, including prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment and cancer survival support. Our disease-focused teams design personalized cancer treatment plans for every patient who entrusts their care to us.

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