Types of Therapeutic Radiation
Researchers keep looking for new ways to use radiation to treat cancer and other health
conditions. This is called radiation therapy. It’s also known as radiotherapy. Some
newer types and uses of this therapy are listed below.
Radiation and chemotherapy used together
Radiation may help how well chemotherapy (chemo) works. And chemo may help the effects
of radiation. Experts are working to find the best use of chemo and radiation.
This means radiation is used during surgery. This can be done to treat some types
of cancer. It may be radiation from a device outside the body. This is called external
beam radiation therapy. Or it may be other types of radiation. The benefit of this
method is that less tissue is exposed to radiation. The target area can be directly
looked at. A more effective dose of radiation may be used. Radiation used in surgery
can also improve cancer treatment in some cases when used with chemo.
Stereotactic irradiation (radiosurgery)
This is the use of a single high dose of radiation to do surgery. The radiation is
sent into the diseased tissue with very narrow beams. One type is called linear acceleration.
Another type is called the Gamma Knife®. With these types of surgery, you may spend
less time in the hospital afterwards. It also lowers the costs for treating some kinds
of brain cancer and other conditions.
Particle radiation therapy
This therapy uses higher-energy particles of radiation to treat cancer. The types
of particles used include neutrons, protons, ions, and antiprotons. Proton therapy
is the most common type of therapy. Fast neutron therapy may be used to treat some
tumors that come back or can’t have surgery. There are only a few places in the U.S.
that have this treatment. Antiproton therapy is the newest type under study. It may
be used for radiosurgery. Internal hadron therapy is another type of particle radiation
therapy. One example of this is boron neutron-capture therapy. A boron compound is
given to the person by injection. The boron builds up in the tumor or cancer tissue.
A reaction occurs in the tumor when a beam of neutrons is sent into the tumor. This
kills the cancer cells. The benefit of this method is that it can be used to treat
3-D conformal radiation therapy
Before the use of CT scans, it was hard to target cancer cells for radiation therapy.
CT gives a 2-D means of finding the area to be treated. But CT and MRI can be used
to provide a 3-D view that shows all the borders of the cancer growth. This allows
for more precise treatment planning.
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
This is like 3-D conformal radiation therapy. IMRT uses single radiation beams that
have different kinds of intensity in them. This reduces the amount of radiation to
normal tissues around the area being treated.
This uses antibodies tagged with a cancer-killing substance. These tagged antibodies
find tumor cells and bind with them. This brings the cancer medicine directly to the
tumor tissue. The tagged antibodies may be given directly into an artery or under
the skin. Or they may be put into a body area, such as the uterus. This method may
be used to treat cancer that has spread but can't be seen. This helps stop the spread
of the cancer.
Your treatment choices
Talk with the radiologist or radiation oncologist. They should have a high level of
skill and extra training to do these procedures. Ask if the provider is certified.
This means they have a special type of approval. They may be certified by a professional
group. Or it may be done by a national board. Before agreeing to treatment, ask the
provider these questions:
What is the treatment for?
Why do I need this treatment?
How many times have you done this treatment?
Are there better options?
What are the possible complications?
Which hospital or facility is best prepared to do this procedure?
Are there side effects?
Will this treatment interfere with medicines I am taking?
When will I get the results?
How much will it cost?
Answers to these questions will help you make an informed choice about your treatment.