Radiation cancer therapy is a type of cancer treatment that involves the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA. Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells (X-rays, gamma rays, and charged particles are types of radiation used for cancer treatment. It is used to treat patients suffering from acute or rarer cancer. A patient may receive radiation therapy before, during, or after surgery, depending on the type of cancer being treated. The radiation used for cancer treatment may come from a machine outside the body, or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near tumor cells or injected into the bloodstream. Some patients receive radiation cancer therapy alone, and some receive radiation therapy in combination with chemotherapy.
Reasons for receiving radiation therapy
Radiation cancer therapy is sometimes given with curative intent (that is, with the hope that the treatment will cure a cancer, either by eliminating a tumor, preventing cancer recurrence, or both). In such cases, radiation therapy may be used alone or in combination with surgery, chemotherapy, or both.
The type of radiation cancer therapy prescribed by a radiation oncologist depends on many factors, including:
- The type of cancer.
- The size of the cancer.
- The cancer’s location in the body.
- How close the cancer is to normal tissues that are sensitive to radiation.
- How far into the body the radiation needs to travel.
- The patient’s general health and medical history.
- Whether the patient will have other types of cancer treatment.
- Other factors, such as the patient’s age and other medical conditions.
Types of radiation treatment for cancer
External-beam radiation cancer therapy is most often delivered in the form of photon beams (either X-rays or gamma rays). A photon is the basic unit of light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It can be thought of as a bundle of energy. The amount of energy in a photon can vary. For example, the photons in gamma rays have the highest energy, followed by the photons in X-rays.
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) uses hundreds of tiny radiation beam-shaping devices, called collimators, to deliver a single dose of radiation. The collimators can be stationary or can move during treatment, allowing the intensity of the radiation beams to change during treatment sessions. This kind of dose modulation allows different areas of a tumor or nearby tissues to receive different doses of radiation.
Tomotherapy is a type of image-guided IMRT. A tomotherapy machine is a hybrid between a CT imaging scanner and an external-beam radiation therapy machine. The part of the tomotherapy machine that delivers radiation for both imaging and treatment can rotate completely around the patient in the same manner as a normal CT scanner. Tomotherapy machines can capture CT images of the patient’s tumor immediately before treatment sessions, to allow for very precise tumor targeting and sparing of normal tissue.
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