Treating Cancer with External Beam Radiation

Cancer treatment has continued to evolve with new technology and knowledge on new innovative techniques to increase the effectiveness with fewer treatments needed. External beam radiation therapy is a form of treatment that aims radiation from a machine called a linear accelerator. The beam of radiation is aimed at a targeted area where tumor cells are found. This type of radiation therapy is a local treatment and treats the specific area in a person’s body such as lungs and not their entire body. There are several options when using external beam radiation therapy with all the same goal to deliver the highest dose of prescribed radiation to a tumor while protecting the surrounding tissue. Below each treatment type is explained more in detail.

3D conformal radiation therapy

This type of technique is a common option in radiation therapy in which it uses images from CT, MRI, and PET scans to create a precise plan for the treatment area. The process allows doctors to sculpt radiation beams to the shape of a tumor and often used in instances where the tumor is oddly shaped or if the tumor lies close to healthy tissue/ organs. The radiation beams can then be directed at the target from several angles as needed.

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is an advanced type of 3-D conformal radiation therapy to treat cancer and noncancerous tumors. IMRT is used by multiple small photons and proton beams aimed at targeted tumor cells with varied, controlled intensity. During each treatment, the beam shape and the beam strength will continue to change to give higher doses to certain parts of the tumor as needed. Due to the greater level of accuracy, IMRT is a possible treatment option for patients that may have reached the maximum allowable dose from conventional radiation therapy with reoccurring tumors.

Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT)

Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) is a form of IMRT. What sets this type of treatment apart from IMRT is that it not only uses imaging scans before radiation sessions begin but also uses them during the actual radiation therapy session. Tumors can shift inside the body due to breathing or other body movements that can sometimes be hard to control. IGRT allows doctors to locate and track tumors during the procedure to deliver more precise radiation therapy. Technical adjustments can be made by the radiation oncologists when the tumor moves outside of the targeted area helping to limit radiation exposure that could damage healthy tissues nearby and decrease common radiation side effects.

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