Radiation Therapy

Why Radiation?

Radiation therapy has been used in the treatment of both benign and malignant tumors since 1896, when Marie Curie used a plaster containing the newly discovered element radium to treat a large skin cancer. Sophisticated machines, like the linear accelerator used today, were developed initially in the 1950’s and have been continually improved and modified into their current appearance. They are now equipped with multi-leaf collimators that allow 3-dimensional treatment delivery and intensity-modulated radiation beam ports. Portal vision has also been added, which allows precise positioning verification of the areas being treated. With "Image Guided Radiation Therapy" (IGRT), the beams are aimed using high-powered computer programs to target the exact areas requiring treatment.

Radiation works by impairing the ability of the cancer cells to grow and divide. Fortunately, cancer cells are more sensitive to the effects of radiation than surrounding normal cells. By carefully arranging the radiation beams, a broader area can be treated than with a surgeon’s knife alone, while at the same time limiting the significant side effects to a degree not possible with body-wide therapies such as chemotherapy.

In many cases, radiation therapy is adequate to treat the cancer by itself. In others, combining radiation with surgery or with chemotherapy gives better results. As a result of the effects of radiation on the cancer, the tumor will usually shrink, pressure is reduced on surrounding tissues, bleeding is stopped, pain is reduced, etc.