According to the National Cancer Institute, radiation oncology is a cancer treatment protocol where regulated doses of high-energy x-rays or other particles are used to destroy or slow down the growth of cancer cells by damaging their DNA. A treatment regime is scheduled and administered for a time frame at the radiation therapy center to completely destroy the DNA of cancerous cells. Radiation oncology can be used alone or in combination with other cancer treatments like surgery and/or chemotherapy.
Radiation oncologists are doctors that specialize in administering radiation therapy to treat cancer. A radiation oncologist may be consulted in any of the following scenarios:
According to the National Cancer Institute, radiotherapy oncology can be mainly divided into two types - External Beam and Internal Radiation Therapy.
It is the most common type of radiotherapy, which is delivered from external equipment. Depending on the type and spread of cancer, external beam radiation therapy can be used to target specific or large areas of the body. The various types of external beam radiotherapy are as follows :
The oncology team uses detailed 3-dimensional images of tumors created by computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It helps the oncologists safely administer high-intensity radiotherapy from different directions to cover the size and shape of the tumor and reduce the damage to nearby healthy tissues.
Three-dimensional images of the tumor are taken and entered into the advanced software that is used to program the linear accelerator (radiation machine) to deliver precise doses of radiation depending on the size and shape of the tumor. Unlike other radiation where a single beam intensity is administered, IMRT uses different radiation intensities. Stronger doses are delivered to certain areas of the tumor while causing less damage to nearby healthy tissue, thereby reducing the side effects of the radiation oncology treatment.
This therapy uses high-energy protons to destroy cancerous cells. Proton beam therapy allows greater control over radiation as protons travel only a certain distance which limits the exposure to healthy tissues around the tumor.
IGRT uses frequent imaging scans (CT or MRI), which allows the radiation oncology doctors to adjust the patient's position, focus the radiation beam precisely on the tumor, and limit the exposure of normal tissues. Due to its precision, effectiveness, and tumor monitoring and control, IGRT is used to treat tumors near vital organs like the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
SRT delivers a large but precise dose of radiation therapy to a small tumor area. It is often used to treat inaccessible growths like brain tumors. After the scan locates the exact location of cancer, radiation is sent from different angles to target it precisely. It is often called stereotactic radiosurgery because of its highly specific action, almost like surgery. When stereotactic radiotherapy is used outside the brain to treat small, isolated forms of cancer, it is called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). It is used for certain types of lung and liver tumors. When small doses of stereotactic radiotherapy are administered for several days to weeks, it is called fractionated stereotactic radiation therapy. It is best used to treat meningioma in sensitive areas like the brain stem or optic (eye) nerves.
Respiratory gating uses advanced computer software that guides the radiation beam's delivery as the patient breathes. It is used in specific tumors located in the lungs, chest, or abdomen that move during the natural process of respiration. The gating mechanism helps the radiologist to use the window period when the tumor is within a specific targeted treatment field. It improves the accuracy and effectiveness of radiation therapy and minimizes the impact on healthy tissues.
VMAT is a type of radiotherapy where the linear accelerator delivers the 3-dimensional dose of radiation in a single rotation. Unlike other delivery machines that rotate several times and start and stop periodically throughout the process, VMAT is efficient and faster. A planning session is required before the treatment to ensure precise delivery by properly aligning the linear accelerator with the tumor.
Respiratory deep inspiration breath hold is a type of radiation therapy technique that is delivered only at specific points during a patient's breathing cycle of inspiration and expiration. It minimizes the movement of body organs like the heart, stomach, pancreas, and liver, thereby limiting their exposure.
Internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy, is a type of radiotherapy in which a source of radiation is implanted within the body space, such as the rectum or uterus (intracavitary radiation) or placed in/near the tumor area (interstitial radiation). Different types of implants in the form of seeds, ribbons, capsules, balloons, or tubes are used in brachytherapy. These radiation sources deliver high doses of radiation to a specific area of the body and reduce the damage to nearby healthy tissues.
According to the National Cancer Institute, more than half of all cancer patients receive radiotherapy. Radiation oncology depends on the type and spread of cancer and may be used to treat the following cancers:
How long will radiation oncology treatment take to treat cancer?
It depends on the type and stage of the cancer. The radiation therapist will schedule all your treatment appointments and specify the approximate duration of each treatment session.
What side effects will I face during radiation therapy?
The most common side effects of radiation therapy include fatigue, dry skin and mouth, and hair loss which goes away within a few weeks of completion of the treatment. You can talk to your radiation oncologists to know more about the specific side effects that may vary depending on the type of cancer and radiation oncology treatment.
Is my treatment going to make me radioactive?
No, radiation therapy doesn't make you radioactive. Instead, the radiotherapy beam travels a small distance to destroy the cancer cells. Radiation is delivered to you by external machines or implants placed inside the body. They are only active while your treatment is ongoing and not afterward. There is no residual radiation left after the treatment.
Will internally placed implants remain within my body after treatment?
Implants can be temporary or permanent based on the type and location of cancer. Talk to your radiation doctor to know about the implant that you may need.
Where can I find a radiation oncologist near me?
If you are based in (or near Florida), you can schedule an appointment at the ACTC radiation oncology center with our experienced radiation oncologists by calling 352-345-4565 or completing the online form here.
Our immunotherapy cancer treatment specialists are committed to providing excellent patient care by developing effective and personalized treatment plans. Some of Florida's most experienced providers are on our team. Our professionals strive to create a positive environment for patients and their families throughout their cancer journey.
One can consult with the ACTC providers listed below:
MD, Hematology & Oncology
MD, Radiation Oncologist
MD, Ph.D., Hematology/ Medical Oncology
MD, Radiation Oncologist
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