What is Radiation Therapy and How Does it Work?

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.  Radiation is energy that’s carried by waves or a stream of particles and it works by damaging the genes (DNA) in cells. Genes control how cells grow and divide, and when radiation damages the genes of cancer cells, they cannot grow and divide any more. Over time, the cancer cells die. Radiation therapy is one of the most common treatments for cancer and it may be used to shrink early-stage cancer, stop cancer from coming back, or to treat symptoms when cancer has spread.

Radiation therapy is broadly divided into External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT), where radiation is delivered to the target from an external machine, and Brachytherapy, where radiation is delivered by placing the radiation source inside the body near the intended target. EBRT delivers radiation to the target site from an external machine, typically called a linear accelerator, or LINAC. The LINAC generates high-energy X-ray beams and is equipped with an imaging system that precisely targets the tumor while delivering radiation, destroying cancer cells and minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.

When designing your treatment plan, your medical team relies on one or more types of 3-D scans of your body. These can include a CT scan, an MRI and/or a PET scan. By looking at these scans and other test results, the radiation oncologist and his or her team determine which radiation therapy technique is best suited for your particular case.

Key advantages of radiation therapy:

  • Noninvasive, no incisions
  • No anesthesia or hospitalization required
  • Painless treatment
  • 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

Radiation therapy 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.

How Does Medical Oncology Work?

Medical oncology uses chemotherapy, biological agents or other medications, such as targeted therapies and oral (in pill form) chemotherapy, to treat cancer. Chemotherapy can be used alone or as part of a cancer treatment plan that may also include radiation therapy, surgery, hormonal, or biological therapies. It may be used in an effort to cure the cancer, or to treat unpleasant symptoms the cancer is causing, such as pain or bleeding. Depending on the type of treatment used, patients may receive treatment in a single day, several consecutive days, or continuously in an outpatient or inpatient setting. Your treatment time varies, depending on the specific cancer treatment plan.

Other Alliance Services

Alliance Surgery Arizona

Surgical oncology is the branch of surgery applied to oncology. It focuses on the surgical management of tumors, especially cancerous tumors. Whether a patient is a candidate for surgery depends on factors such as the type, size, location, grade, and stage of the tumor, as well as general health factors such as age, physical fitness, and other medical conditions. For many patients, surgery will be combined with other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. These may be administered before surgery (neoadjuvant) or after surgery (adjuvant) to help prevent cancer growth, spread, or recurrence.

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