Radiation is a form of therapy that uses a highly targeted, high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and destroy cancer cells. It is one of the most common cancer treatments. Radiation may be used alone or in conjunction with surgery and/or chemotherapy to rid the body of cancer cells.
Radiation therapy affects only the part of the body being treated. It works by targeting the cancer cells, destroying them to keep them from growing and dividing. While the normal cells of your body can be affected by radiation, they usually recover and regain normal function.
There are three types of radiation therapy:
- External beam radiation – with this methodology, a machine directs high-energy rays from outside the body directly to area in which the tumor is located. Some healthy tissue may be affected. In most cases, external radiation therapy is an outpatient procedure, taking place over the course of a number of weeks.
As one example of external beam radiation, The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders uses the CyberKnife System® Robotic Radiosurgery as a noninvasive alternative to surgery for the treatment of both cancerous and noncancerous tumors anywhere in the body, including the prostate, lung, brain, spine, liver, pancreas and kidney. Though its name may conjure images of scalpels and surgery, the CyberKnife System® treatment involves no cutting. In fact, the CyberKnife System® is the world’s first and only robotic radiosurgery system designed to treat tumors throughout the body non-invasively. It provides a pain-free, non-surgical option for patients who have inoperable or surgically complex tumors, or who may be looking for an alternative to surgery.
- Internal radiation – with this methodology, an implant is placed near or in the affected area. Because the implant is in direct proximity to the tumor, its radiation has little effect on the surrounding tissues. As one example, we use MammoSite therapy for breast cancer here at The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders,. MammoSite therapy simply places the radiation source directly into the space left following a tumor’s removal, delivering radiation directly to the area where the cancer is most likely to recur. This is done on an outpatient basis, and is typically a considerably shorter term solution, allowing patients to get back to their normal lives much more quickly.
- Systemic radiation – with this methodology, radiation is administered orally or intravenously. Of course, that means that the radiation makes its way through the body. The good thing, though, is that the radioactive substance tends to go directly to the tumor, leaving little effect on the rest of the body.