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Radiation Therapy

Many patients diagnosed with cancer will receive radiation treatment, or radiotherapy, during the course of their cancer treatment plan. Based on your unique cancer diagnosis, your radiation oncologist will recommend the best treatment available for your type and stage of cancer.

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 treatment uses ionizing radiation delivered by radioactive material that is placed a short distance from, or within, the tumor. For example, prostate cancer brachytherapy involves the insertion of 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.
  • Referred to as “GPS for the body,” the Calypso system pinpoints a tumor’s exact location, allowing real-time tracking during prostate cancer treatment. As a result, during each treatment session, radiation can be delivered accurately and precisely, with limited radiation exposure to surrounding tissues and organs. The Calypso system’s ability to track prostate movement minimizes the risk of underdosing the tumor, reduces the exposure of healthy tissue to additional radiation and decreases serious side effects.
  • 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 and liver. For patients who can’t be treated with surgery, SRS offers an effective noninvasive option 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.

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, but more often it will be used in conjunction with other cancer treatments. 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 or gamma rays and is referred to as external beam radiation therapy. Internal radiation therapy places a radioactive material inside the body. Radiation therapy can cure some cancers, stop or slow the growth and prevent it from returning.

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

Benefits and risks of radiation therapy

The goal of radiation therapy is to destroy the cancer cells and slow the growth of tumors 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, tooth decay and hair loss.
  • Chest problems: Treatment in the chest area can cause difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, nipple and breast soreness, shoulder stiffness, radiation pneumonitis 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.

Your care team at The University of Kansas Cancer center works to help you avoid or deal with 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 treatments at the Richard and Annette Bloch Radiation Oncology Pavilion, located on the main hospital campus, as well as other community locations.

At The University of Kansas Cancer Center, we use the most advanced technology when it comes to radiation therapy. These techniques include:

Trilogy®

Through its image-guided radiotherapy capabilities, Trilogy linear accelerator precisely targets tumors and reduces radiation dose to surrounding critical organs, limiting side effects. It also dramatically reduces treatment times and delivers stereotactic radiosurgery to cancers anywhere in the body.

  • 3D conformal radiation therapy, or 3D CRT
  • Image-guided radiotherapy, or IGRT
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy, or IMRT
  • Adaptive 4D radiation therapy
  • Brain lab assisted intracranial and extracranial stereotactic radiation therapy
  • Calypso localization system enhances prostate targeting

TrueBeam®

The latest linear accelerator technology delivers stereotactic radiotherapy treatments with great precision and versatility. Using the latest technology, you'll benefit with shorter treatment times and fewer side effects. This technology effectively treats cancer anywhere in the body. Its precise targeting capabilities deliver multiple therapies, including:

  • 3D conformal radiation therapy, or 3D CRT
  • Image-guided radiotherapy, or IGRT
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy, or IMRT
  • Gated RapidArc® radiotherapy used for lung and other tumors subject to respiratory motion

Request your appointment today.

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