There are numerous types of radiation therapy that oncologists are using to treat cancers today. Several types of radiation particles or waves are used to deliver radiation treatment including photons, electrons and protons. Photons and electrons are the used types of radiation as they are the most abundant. Proton radiation therapy is available in a few medical therapy facilities while new proton therapies are being developed.
The three types of radiation therapy, photon, electron and proton therapy, all have the same basic effects on cancerous tissues; to eliminate them. Each type of therapy has its own set of benefits and drawbacks which is why oncologists use it over the others in treating certain cancers. In the following few installments on radiology treatments we will discuss why certain therapy’s are chosen by radiation oncologists over others. Only the radiation oncologist treating you will understand your cancer situation and the best radiation therapy to best care for specific condition.
Photon Radiation Treatment Options
Photon beams are similar to those used in diagnostic x-ray machines like what would be seen to check for a bone break. These same photon beams but in a much higher energy beam are used in radiotherapy. Most conventional photon radiation is delivered using a machine known as a linear accelerator or linas for short.
First we will take a look into two dimensional photon therapies which are the most common therapy options in treating cancer. This conventional radiation therapy utilizes x-ray films to determine how to best position the radiation beams to treat the cancerous tumors. In treatment, the bones on the x-rays are used to map out the position of the tumor in relation to normal organs to allow radiologists to position the radiation beams on the targeted cancerous tumor. In conventional radiation therapy the planning is done in a quick, efficient manner and a patient can begin the process of treatment swiftly. Other techniques in treating cancer require lengthier planning.
Three dimensional radiation therapies use CT scanners and imaging to plan for treating tumors. This treatment option is the most readily available within medical facilities. One major advantage of CT-guided treatment over two dimension conventional therapy is that it allows radiation oncologists to define normal organs and cancerous tumors in three dimensions instead of the flat image present in x-ray technology.
Normally this type of treatment begins with the patient receiving a CT scan laying in the exact position they will be in for treatment. The CT scan will outline the tumor in 3D. Organs that are not affected will also be outlined so that during treatment they can be avoided. The photon radiation beams will be positioned to deliver the most advantageous dose of radiation to the cancerous tumor while avoiding normal organs.
Radiologist use computer software in order to calculate the amount of radiation that is optimal to terminate the tumor while minimizing the radiation to healthy tissue. The goal is to optimize the amount of radiation being received by the cancerous tumor while minimizing the effects of the radiation on healthy organs and tissues surrounding the area. These calculations are constantly adjusted during treatment to take into consideration these calculations.
In order to better understand how this can be done it is important to understand how the beams are positioned using linear accelerators. The radiation beams can be shaped in one of two ways. The first is a leaf within the linear accelerator that can be used to form a customized radiation beam. Usually these leaves, known as multi-leaf collimators, are made of small, shiny blocks of metal that can be quickly moved around independently of one another to form most complex configurations. The second way that beams can be shaped is with the use cerrobend blocks that are individually molded into the desired shape.
We will continue to look into the numerous options available in radiation therapy treatments in our next installment.
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