Types of Radiation Therapy


Radiation therapy is a safe and effective method for treating a wide variety of cancers, using concentrated doses of radiation to kill off cancer cells while preserving more healthy tissue compared to other treatment options. When cancer cells are exposed to radiation, the genetic material inside the cells are damaged, which then eliminates the cells ability to reproduce. Since cancer cells do not have the natural ability to heal and rebuild themselves as healthy cells do, these cells eventually die off. While treatment does affect some surrounding healthy cells in the tissue, they will be able to regenerate after a short recovery period.


There are different types of radiation therapy, which vary in terms of delivery method and sometimes effectiveness depending on the case. At the Southeast Radiation Oncology Center, we work with our patients to create an individualized treatment plan, to ensure that we match them with the form of radiation therapy that best meets their needs.



Since every patient and case is unique, a radiation oncologist will work with the patient and their other doctors to determine the best approach to maximize the benefit they would get from the treatment. There are two main approaches that are defined by their end goal, which is either curing the patient or reducing symptoms.


If the goal is to cure the patient’s cancer, the radiation oncologist will use the various types of radiation therapy to:

• Destroy tumors that have not yet spread throughout the body

• Reduce the chance that the patient’s cancer will return by killing off remaining cancer cells (often following surgery or chemotherapy).

• Shrink the tumor before undergoing surgery.


In certain cases, cancer cannot be cured, so the goal becomes reducing the symptoms to give the patient a better quality of life. Some of the possible applications for radiation therapy to reduce symptoms include:


• Shrinking the size of tumors that are directly affecting the quality of life. (ex. A tumor on the lung that affects breathing).

• Provide pain relief for the patient by reducing the size of a tumor.

• Prevent cancer from weakening a bone and causing pain or a fracture.


With both of these different approaches, it is common for patients to undergo other forms of treatment as well such as chemotherapy or surgery. This is because it will often increase the effectiveness of treatment and improve the chances of curing it.



At Southeast Radiation Oncology Center we use several different types of radiation cancer therapy.


External Beam Radiation Therapy

• External beam radiation therapy is a method used to deliver a beam or several beams of high energy radiation through the skin to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. 

• The team at Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center carefully and precisely designs the size and shape of each beam as well as how the radiation is directed at your body to ensure you are receiving the most effective treatment directed at your tumor while sparing the surrounding normal tissue.

These treatments are typically given five days a week (on weekdays) for several weeks to minimize side effects. This allows enough radiation to be delivered to kill the cancer, while allowing ample time for normal, healthy cells to recover.

• Each round of treatment takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

• The process of undergoing this daily treatment is much like getting a routine, diagnostic X-ray taken as it is a short, outpatient visit that causes no discomfort to the patient.


Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy

• Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy or IMRT is an advanced mode of high precision radiation therapy.

• Each radiation beam is broken up into many “beamlets” and the radiation intensity of each beamlet can be adjusted individually.

• IMRT enables us to further reduce the amount of radiation received by healthy tissue near the tumor.


Image Guided Radiation Therapy

• We utilize Image Guided Radiation Therapy or IGRT to help ensure that each radiation treatment is delivered with the utmost accuracy.

• The position of a tumor can move between treatments due to organ motion such as lung breathing or bladder filling.

• IGRT guides the radiation treatment with daily imaging using X-rays or cone-beam CT, taken in the treatment room just before administering each radiation treatment. Even a small difference of less than 1 millimeter can be detected and adjusted accordingly.


Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy

• SBRT incorporates a specially designed mapping system that tracks the exact location of the target tumor with pinpoint accuracy. Using this technology, o

• Our physicians can treat targeted areas with high doses of radiation in fewer treatments while damaging less healthy tissue.

• Most SBRT patients receive just one to five treatments over the course of several days, although some may require a few more.

• SBRT can be used to treat small tumors that cannot be surgically removed or treated with conventional radiation therapy.


*Some content provided by the American Society of Radiation Oncology and/or Elekta Oncology.

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