Radiation Therapy 101

For those who don’t know me, I am a radiation oncologist in Yuma, Arizona.

There are essentially 3 ways to treat cancer: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radiation to damage cancer cells’ DNA and destroy their ability to divide and grow. Linear accelerators utilizing external radiation or radioactive sources placed inside the patient on a temporary or permanent basis is how radiation is delivered to a patient for a curative intent.

Radiation therapy can help reduce pain and suffering (palliation, i.e. reduce symptoms) in patients with advanced or metastatic cancer.

Radiation Oncologists will use a variety of tools at their disposal to deliver the radiation to the cancer cells as precisely as possible to minimize side effects and avoid damaging normal cells. Imaging  may be used to help determine the exact shape and location of your tumor and to target the tumor effectively.  There are a variety of different radiation delivery systems, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Community based practices will use linear accelerators which cost several million dollars, whereas large health care systems sometimes utilize much more expensive systems (100 million+) that utilize protons for the treatment of cancer.

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