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Radiation Therapy

Many patients diagnosed with cancer will receive radiation treatment, or radiotherapy, during their cancer treatment. Based on your unique cancer diagnosis, your radiation oncologist will recommend the best treatment available for your type and stage of cancer. The University of Kansas Cancer Center offers the most advanced technologies available for radiation therapy.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation, a type of energy, to kill cancer cells in a targeted region. The radiation used in this treatment is a stronger dose of the radiation that is used to produce X-rays of bones and teeth.

Types of radiation therapy

Some radiation treatment options include:

  • Brachytherapy treatmentalso called “internal radiation” involves a procedure that places radioactive material directly into the tumor. For example, prostate cancer brachytherapy involves inserting radioactive seeds into the prostate gland using ultrasound- and template-guided technology. Brachytherapy is also used to treat breast, cervical, uterine and vaginal cancers. Depending on the type of cancer you have, we deliver high-dose rate or low-dose rate brachytherapy. Brachytherapy, the ability to deliver radiation treatment directly into the tumor, is often the most accurate way to treat cancer and can minimize side effects. Physicians at The University of Kansas Cancer Center have the most extensive experience in providing brachytherapy for a variety of cancers.
  • Referred to as “GPS for the body,” the Calypso localization system pinpoints a tumor’s exact location, allowing real-time tracking during cancer treatment. As a result, at each treatment session, radiation can be delivered accurately and precisely, with limited exposure to surrounding tissues and organs, even as the tumor moves. The Calypso system is commonly used for prostate and lung cancers. Calypso’s ability to track movement minimizes the risk of underdosing the tumor, reduces exposure of healthy tissue to additional radiation and decreases serious side effects. The University of Kansas Cancer Center is nationally renowned for its use of this advanced radiation technology.
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) use varied strengths of radiation beams that are targeted with a 3D approach. They deliver high doses of radiation that conform to the shape of the tumor while minimizing radiation to the surrounding organs. IMRT allows very high doses of radiation to be delivered to multiple tumor types, such as prostate, head and neck, lung and brain, with minimal side effects. IGRT uses imaging technology, such as CT scanning, to deliver IMRT.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) and stereotactic radiotherapy (SRT) target tumors in the brain, spine, lung, prostate and liver. SRS offers an effective noninvasive alternative to surgery with similar outcomes. It may also be combined with surgery to treat any remaining cancerous cells. SRS directs a single fraction of a high dose of tightly focused radiation beams onto the tumor while minimizing the radiation dose to the surrounding normal tissues or organs. As a result, it reduces long-term side effects. When delivered using from 2-5 fractions, SRS is called stereotactic radiotherapy, or SRT, and can treat patients with early-stage prostate cancer in as little as 1 week. Physicians at The University of Kansas Cancer Center are nationally renowned for their expertise in this advanced form of radiation therapy.

Who can have radiation therapy?

Radiation is one of the most common treatments for a wide range of cancer types. It may be administered as your only cancer treatment or used in conjunction with other cancer treatments like surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy may be administered before, during or after surgery, chemotherapyimmunotherapy or other types of cancer treatments to improve the effectiveness and make successful cancer treatment more likely.

How does radiation therapy work?

Radiation therapy is a common form of cancer treatment that uses beams of intense radiation energy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Most forms of radiation are delivered from outside of the body using high-energy X-rays. This is called external beam radiation therapy. Internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy, places a radioactive material inside the tumor. Radiation therapy is used to cure many types of cancer.

High-dose radiation delivered during radiation therapy damages the DNA inside cancer cells. This damage stops the cells from dividing and thereby kills the cells.

Benefits and risks of radiation therapy

The goal of radiation therapy is to destroy cancer cells without harming nearby healthy tissue. In this case, radiation is very effective in killing cancer cells and is one of the most common forms of cancer treatment.

When it comes to radiation therapy, side effects occur when the radiation damages surrounding healthy tissue. Some patients may experience none, while others may experience more severe side effects. Because radiation therapy is a localized treatment, the side effects you may experience depend on the location of your cancer. Common side effects include:

  • Skin problems: You may experience dryness, itching, blistering or peeling of the skin surrounding the affected area. This typically improves after treatment ends.
  • Fatigue: This can be worse when your radiation is combined with chemotherapy.
  • Head and neck issues: With head and neck radiation, you can experience dry mouth, sore gums, difficulty swallowing, jaw stiffness, nausea and tooth decay.
  • Chest problems: Treatment in the chest area can cause difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, nipple and breast soreness, shoulder stiffness and lung scars known as radiation fibrosis.
  • Stomach or abdominal complications: Radiation in this area can cause nausea and vomiting, as well as diarrhea.
  • Pelvic side effects: Radiation to the pelvis can cause diarrhea, rectal bleeding, incontinence, bladder irritation, sexual dysfunction, lowered sperm count, changes in menstruation, vaginal itching and burning and infertility.
  • Radiation necrosis: Radiation necrosis is a condition that can occur when healthy tissue dies and can occur after radiation treatment ends.

With advanced technologies available and nationally renowned radiation oncologists at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, we can reduce or eliminate potential side effects. Your care team will work to help you avoid or minimize any possible side effects from radiation therapy.

What happens during radiation therapy?

How your radiation works, and the type of radiation treatment required, depends on your specific cancer. Your care team will decide on the best course of therapy. You will receive more information about what to expect during treatment and how many radiation therapy sessions you will need.

Why choose us

We offer the most advanced radiation technologies at multiple locations throughout the Kansas City region, and our radiation oncologists are specialized experts in the cancers they treat. Many of the radiation treatments available at The University of Kansas Cancer Center are not available anywhere else in the region. Our nationally renowned physicians have authored textbooks on a variety of advanced cancer treatments, serve on national cancer committees and write treatment guidelines for a variety of cancers that are followed by physicians across the country. We also offer many clinical trials for all types of cancer.

Request your appointment today.

To make an appointment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, call 913-588-1227.