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21st Century Oncology Blog

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21st Century Oncology Blog

A Beginner’s Overview to Radiation Therapy Technologies

April 2, 2014

The phrase “radiation therapy technology” can be quite intimidating to anyone who isn’t familiar with how the systems and processes operate. And for someone who is dealing with a cancer diagnosis, the unfamiliarity can lead to an emotional overwhelm very quickly.

To begin building your understanding of radiation treatment technologies from 21st Century Oncology, here are nine quick facts that can shed some light on a potentially frightening subject:

  1. The purpose of a radiation therapy program is to kill cancer cells. This, in turn, helps to shrink tumors.
  2. Radiation therapy can be used alone or as part of a cohesive cancer treatment plan alongside chemotherapy, surgery and other cancer treatment options. Treatment sessions can either be singular or in a successive schedule depending on the type and form of cancer being treated.
  3. There are two types of radiation therapy for cancer: External and Internal. External radiation is delivered to the affected area(s) from outside the body while internal radiation targets those areas from inside the body.
  4. External radiation is delivered through External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT). EBRT is the most common form of radiation used to treat tumors. Machines called linear accelerators, or Linacs, are used to deliver radiation to the tumor site with pinpoint accuracy.
  5. Brachytherapy, a powerful form of internally delivered radiation therapy, is used to treat a number of cancers, including skin, prostate and breast cancers. 
  6. There are two types of Brachytherapy: High-Dose Rate (HDR) and Low-Dose Rate (LDR).
  7. HDR involves implanting a small tube (or cannula) into the body that reaches the tumor site and delivers the radiation directly. The tube is removed when the radiation is no longer needed.
  8. LDR involves the use of radioactive seeds that are implanted into the body. Over time, those seeds lose their radioactive properties.

If a patient feels overwhelmed by the technical and medical jargon, the best action is to sit down and have a talk with their radiation oncologist. It’s always a good idea to bring a list of questions to the meeting to make sure the overwhelming feeling doesn’t cause them to forget anything on their mind. Here are some starter questions related to radiation therapy that can be helpful for building that list:

  • What type of radiation therapy is right for me? Why?
  • How will the process work when I begin radiation therapy?
  • What kind of side effects should I be prepared for?
  • How will the radiation treatment affect my day-to-day living?
  • What kind of diet and exercise regimen should I start now to help me during the treatments?
  • What can I do to prepare my family and myself for the overall impact of radiation treatments?