High-energy x-rays or particles used to destroy cancerous tumors and cells is known as radiation therapy. A number of doctors specialize in treating cancer. A radiation oncologist is the specialist that is trained to deliver radiation therapy to treat cancer. The team of cancer specialists treating you and your cancer will develop a radiation schedule that delivers radiation at consistent intervals over the course of a set time period.
Radiation Therapy Goals
The goals of treatment using radiation is to slow the growth of cancerous tumors and destroy cancer cells without causing permanent damage to the surrounding healthy tissues and cells. Most often doctors will recommend radiation therapy as the first line of treating cancer. It can also be given with great results after surgery or chemotherapy. When this is done it is known as adjuvant therapy. This targets the “leftovers”, the cells containing cancer after the initial treatment.
Sometimes it is not possible to destroy all of the cancer. If this is the case with your cancer specialists will use radiation to shrink the tumor to relieve the symptoms. This is known as palliative radiation therapy. In palliative therapy treatment is done to reduce the pressure, pain, and symptoms of cancer. It is done to create a better quality of life for the patient. If palliative therapy is done it is not done necessarily to cure the cancer but instead to increase the quality of life after diagnosis.
If you are diagnosed with cancer there is more than a fifty percent chance that you will receive a form of radiation therapy in treating your cancer. Many forms of cancer react better with a combination of treatments such as radiation therapy with surgery, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy.
Using a Linear Accelerator
The most common delivery of radiation therapy is external-beam. This consists of radiation being delivered to the patient using a machine known as a linear accelerator from the outside of the body. This machine creates a beam of radiation that is delivered through the skin directly to the cancerous tumor. Specialized computer software is used in conjunction with LINAC to adjust the size and shape of the radiation beam specific to each patient’s tumor. Targeting the exact shape and size of the tumor and cancer cells allows radiation oncologists to avoid healthy tissues that sit near the cancerous cells.
Treatment is normally given every day, Monday – Friday, for several weeks. If treatment is to be given to the head, neck or brain, a form-fitting support or plastic mesh mask is used to prevent the patient from moving during radiation therapy.
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