Because cancer cells have the ability to grow, multiply and spread quickly, it is important to find the right therapy to slow, then destroy those cells. Radiation of cancer cells has been shown to reduce the rate at which they grow and ultimately result in the death of the cells. Although the normal (non-cancerous) cells may be affected by the radiation, they are usually able to repair themselves over time. Radiation is effective in shrinking tumors as well as reducing their growth rate.
Your oncologist may prescribe radiation therapy depending on cancer type, stage and location. Radiation may be used on its own or as a complementary therapy to surgery or medical oncology. The most common types of radiation therapy include:
Brachytherapy is used to deliver radiation directly to a specific site. At St. Vincent Healthcare, we utilize balloon brachytherapy for the treatment of breast cancer, most often following a lumpectomy. During this procedure, a balloon with internal catheters is inserted into the site of the lumpectomy by a surgeon. Radiation can then be delivered directly through the catheter. Once treatments are complete, the balloon is then removed.
External Beam Radiation Therapy
External Beam Radiation Therapy, or EBRT, is the type of radiation therapy with which many people are most familiar. During this procedure, one or more beams are delivered via a linear accelerator through the skin to the tumor and the tissues directly surrounding it. It is an outpatient procedure, usually taking only minutes to complete per session. A complete series of EBRT may take 6-8 weeks or more of regular—sometimes daily—sessions.
Systemic Radiation Therapy
This radiation therapy use radioactive drugs (radiopharmaceuticals) to deliver radiation throughout the patient’s body. It is delivered either by having the patient swallow the drug or through an IV. This therapy frequently requires administering the drug in a shielded room and taking additional precautions several days afterward to protect others from the radioactive dose.