Why Radiation Therapy

We offer current, state of the art radiation therapy treatments, provided by a team of experienced, caring radiation oncology physicians and team members. Radiation therapy and stereotactic radiosurgery; a precise and accurate method of delivering radiation to a tumor target, is delivered safely, painlessly and does not involve cutting or surgery.

Radiation therapy has been used for more than a century to treat cancer. The treatment is performed as an outpatient procedure with little to no recovery time. Radiation therapy treatment sessions are quick and painless. With minimal to no side effects, most patients return to their normal daily routines following each treatment appointment.

Our Radiation Therapy Treatments

In addition to stereotactic radiosurgery and body radiation therapy, CAMC Radiation Oncology Services offer several types of radiation therapy designed to treat all forms and stages of cancer and some noncancerous conditions:

Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) is a specialized form of 3DCRT that allows radiation to be more precisely shaped to fit the tumor. With IMRT, the radiation beam can be broken up into many “beamlets” and the intensity of each beamlet can be adjusted individually. This allows for better control over shaping the radiation delivery to the target volume while avoiding healthy tissue. In many situations, this can allow a higher dose to the tumor while improving normal tissue avoidance, increasing chance for cure.

3-D conformal therapy

In the past, radiation oncologists could only plan using two dimensions (width and length), due to limitations in imaging technology. With current advanced imaging and computer technology, the radiation oncologists at CAMC Radiation Oncology can plan treatment in three dimensions (length, width, and depth). This process is known as 3D Conformal Radiation Therapy (3DCRT). The process starts with a CT scan, which gives a three-dimensional picture of the patient’s body, including the tumor to be treated as well as all normal anatomy. This picture can be supplemented with additional information from other 3D images such as PET and MRI scans which can be “fused” or superimposed with the planning CT. Using this picture as a map of the body, the radiation oncologist identifies the target to be treated and any sensitive healthy tissue that needs to be avoided. The radiation oncology team then uses powerful computers to design a radiation treatment plan with multiple beams aimed at the target. Each beam is shaped to deliver the optimal dose to the target, while avoiding surrounding sensitive normal structures. Thus, the radiation “conforms” to the target volume.

4D (four-dimension) CT-based treatment planning

A technique that provides information to help plan when breathing impacts tumor motion. This allows us to conform the radiation dose to the tumor’s motion. By accounting for tumor motion during breathing, doses to critical normal organs can be limited allowing the delivery of higher doses to the tumor. This tool along with other technologies allows Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy.

Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT)

3D-CRT/IMRT is further enhanced with use of daily image guidance (IGRT). One challenge that the radiation oncology team faces is how to accurately and consistently position the patient for their daily treatments. Tumors are not always where they are expected to be because of patient movement/breathing and normal tissue filling (GI tract, rectum, bladder, etc.) which can change between each treatment and during treatment. With IGRT an image is obtained daily before and during radiation treatments. This identifies precisely where the tumor and other critical normal structures reside at the most important time, when the treatment is being given. In some cases, we implant a tiny piece of metal called a fiducial marker near or in the tumor to further help localize the tumor during IGRT. Changes in set up can be made to insure optimal daily targeting. CAMC Radiation Oncology offers the most advanced Image Guided Radiation Therapy currently available. We utilize daily infrared visualization and kilovoltage-based tumor tracking using BrainLab’s Exac-Trac 6-dimensional X-ray system. This allows day-to-day accuracy to within one to two millimeters, a level of precision that is higher than what has ever been achieved before.

High Dose Rate Brachytherapy (HDR)

High Dose Rate Brachytherapy (HDR), also referred to, as “internal radiation therapy” is a radiation treatment, which uses a small radioactive source temporarily, placed inside or near the tumor. Interstitial HDR Brachytherapy is performed for soft tissue sarcomas as an adjunct to surgery. Intracavitary HDR Brachytherapy is provided as a definitive treatment (along with external beam radiation) for advanced uterine cervix cancer and as an adjunct (alone) following hysterectomy for higher risk uterine endometrial cancer (vaginal cuff). Under computer control the position and timing of the radiation source placement can be precisely controlled, allowing the physician to shape the radiation dose to the target. Because of the high dose rate characteristics, this brachytherapy treatment is provided during a short time frame on an outpatient basis. This avoids the hospitalization (and related complications with extended patient immobilization) that was required with previous low dose rate techniques (LDR).

Mammosite Brachytherapy (Accelerated Partial Breast Treatment)

Our department, along with area surgeons, offers Mammosite Brachytherapy as a treatment option for selected early stage breast cancer in conjunction with a lumpectomy. This treatment option uses an Iridium-192 radioactive source, which delivers radiation to the lumpectomy cavity (partial breast) by way of a mammosite balloon. At the time of the lumpectomy or shortly after, the surgeon will place the deflated mammosite balloon into the cavity, which is inflated by catheter conforming to the lumpectomy cavity prior to the radiation delivery. This radiation treatment is delivered two times a day for five days as opposed to standard fractionated treatment, which is delivered daily for five to six weeks.

Prostate Seed Brachytherapy

With this technique, radiation can be delivered to the prostate alone by implanting radioactive seeds (permanent seed implants using Iodine-125 or Palladium-103). For high risk category prostate cancer the seed brachytherapy should be combined with a shortened course of external beam radiation therapy (5 weeks). For low risk category prostate cancer the seed brachytherapy is provided alone. The major advantage for seed implant is the ability to give a high radiation dose while confining the treatment more tightly to the prostate, which leads to excellent tumor control and fewer long-term complications. Prostate brachytherapy is a combined effort where radiation oncologists perform this procedure along with urologists. The Prostate Brachytherapy program has been refined at CAMC for nearly 10 years representing one of the strongest experiences in the state (over 300 cases performed). The recommendation for prostate seed brachytherapy (implants) depends on a number of patient and tumor factors: this includes pre-treatment prostate size, urinary symptoms, previous prostate surgical history (TURP), cancer risk profile (low vs. intermediate vs. high risk category), and the patient’s surgical candidacy and desires. Depending on these factors many patients may better be served by treating the prostate with modern external beam radiation therapy (see IMRT/IGRT above) or prostatectomy (also see DaVinci® robotic surgery discussed elsewhere in this book). The breadth of treatment options available allows the physician and patient to select the specific treatment, which is best suited to each patient’s particular medical needs. Our radiation oncologists strongly favor a multidisciplinary approach for making decisions regarding optimal treatment for prostate cancer and encourage patients to seek consultations with a urologic surgeon as well as a radiation oncologist. The radiation oncologists, urologists, and medical oncologists meet regularly during “peer review conference” where we collectively review and discuss optimal treatment options for urologic cancer cases.

Superficial Radiation Therapy (Skin Treatment)

Radiation therapy is an extremely effective method for treating (non-melanoma) skin cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancer includes basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. Superficial (on the skin) treatment for such skin cancers can be provided by a special machine that has a better ability to treat the skin while avoiding and preserving underlying tissues. Superficial treatment machines are not commonly found at most radiation oncology practices; however, CAMC Radiation Oncology houses such a machine called the Picker superficial x-ray unit. Radiation treatment for skin cancer (non-melanoma) has excellent control rates and cosmetic outcomes. Such treatment allows many patients to avoid the alternative option of surgery, which can often result in scarring/cosmetic changes.

Key advantages of Radiosurgery:

  • Noninvasive, no incisions
  • No anesthesia or hospitalization required
  • Pain free
  • Outpatient procedure
  • Little to no recovery time
  • Allows for an immediate return to daily activities
  • Minimal, if any, side effects due to pinpoint precision of high-dose radiation delivery
  • Minimal radiation exposure to healthy tissue surrounding a tumor
  • Five or fewer outpatient treatment sessions

Radiosurgery may be an option for patients with:

  • Medically inoperable or surgically complex tumors, or those who seek an alternative to surgery or conventional radiation therapy.
  • Recurrent cancer or metastatic tumors that have spread to other areas of the body from the main tumor site.
  • A high risk of developing complications after surgery.

Speak with one of our dedicated team members about how we can help today.