Advances in radiation treatment for cancer are made all the time. There are various ways to treat cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of treatments may be used. Treatment depends on the type of cancer that you have and what kinds of treatment respond best to it. Radiation treatment is highly successful for certain cancers. 3D & 4D Conformal Radiation Therapy and Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) is a state-of-the-art radiation treatment that is associated with improved outcomes and less patient discomfort than older forms of radiation. The goal of radiation therapy for cancer treatment is to reduce or to eliminate the tumor and spare as much healthy tissue and organ functioning as possible. Radiation kills and disrupts the growth of cancer cells and radiated cancer cells are not able to repair themselves or replicate.
Radiation often damages all cells, both healthy and cancerous, in the exposed area. In the past, external sources of radiation therapy involved aiming high-beam energy rays at a treatment area. Conventional radiation was associated with side effects and the loss of healthy tissue leading experts in the field to look for better ways to use radiation.
Today, sophisticated technology has refined the way that radiation treatment is delivered. Modern radiation methods target the cancer more effectively, spare more healthy tissue, and are associated with fewer side effects and improved cure rates. Some of the modern methods include three dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D CRT), four dimensional conformal radiation therapy (4D CRT), and intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT).
State-of-the-art technology has advanced radiation methods to help make them more effective and tolerable. Three dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D CRT) maps a tumor with imaging scans before treatment. Magnetic imaging (MRI) scans, computed tomography (CT) scans, and positron emission tomography (PET) scans are used to produce images of a tumor and its surrounding tissue. The images from the scans are combined with a computer called a multi-leaf collimator (MLC). The MLC produces a 3D image of the cancer and formulates a treatment plan specifically for the 3D image. This allows direct multiple beams of radiation to be targeted precisely at the tumor and spare as much healthy tissue as possible.
Four dimensional conformal radiation therapy (4D CRT) measures the motion of tumors during natural small movements that occur during treatment, such as breathing. Four-dimensional CRT is especially useful when treating lung cancer. The motion measurements are included in the treatment formula configurations. This ensures that the tumor is targeted during motions and as much healthy tissue is spared as much as possible.
Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is a refined type of 3D CRT. IMRT allows the radiologist to sculpt the edges of a tumor sparing healthy tissue. With IMRT, the radiation dose can be changed during a treatment session. In the past, radiation was delivered in one dose, from the beginning to the end of a treatment session. IMRT allows the radiation dose to alter and conform more specifically to the shape of the tumor while minimizing the dose received by healthy tissues.
Before your radiation treatment begins, you will meet with your doctor for consultation and treatment simulation. During the simulation, a plastic or Styrofoam mold will be made of your body. The mold, sometimes referred to as a cradle, is used to position your body during treatments. X-rays and images of the tumor will be taken while you are positioned in the mold. This allows your treatment team to pinpoint the tumor and mark the treatment area on your skin. An outline of the treatment area is marked with tiny tattooed dots.
External radiation therapy is an outpatient procedure. The treatment sessions are short. It typically takes more time to position your body in the mold than it does to perform the treatment. The actual treatment usually lasts just a few minutes. Your doctor will determine how much treatment you need. Treatment sessions are commonly daily and last for several months. Common side effects include feeling tired and experiencing some irritation in the treatment area. Your doctor will let you know what to expect. Be sure to share your concerns with your doctor and be sure to ask questions about your treatment and what to expect.