Radiation therapy: Zeroing in on cancer

Written by Community Health Network on 2/8/2014 10:30:00 AM

This is the first blog in a three-part interview series with Dr. Chandrika Patel, radiation oncologist. She is board certified in radiation oncology by the American Board of Radiology and a certified MD Anderson Cancer Network® physician at Community Cancer Center East.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy is treatment where beams of high-energy rays are used to target and destroy cancer cells. Radiation oncologists specialize in treating cancer patients with it. Radiation therapy is not like chemotherapy. Radiation treats just the tumor. Chemo uses drugs to treat the whole body.

Because of the precision and versatility with which these treatments are delivered, over 66 percent of cancer patients will have some form of radiotherapy as part of their treatment. It may be given at different times in cancer treatment, dependent upon the cancer type. Sometimes it is used to shrink a tumor, or used after a surgery to kill areas the surgery missed.

Are there different types of radiation therapy?
Depending on the type of cancer you have, you may be treated with high-dose rate (HDR) radiotherapy. This treatment uses higher amounts of radiation than in typical radiation therapy. The radiation is directed precisely at the tumor to avoid damaging healthy tissue, with the advantage that it may kill more cancer cells in fewer treatments.

In contrast, low dose rate radiation brachytherapy, is a different way to deliver radiation. Low dose radiation is commonly used for prostate cancer treatments, and involves implanting a radioactive “seed” in the body permanently to damage the cancer cells. This allows application of a higher dose of radiation for a shorter period of time to a small area.

Is high-dose rate (HDR) the most common type of radiation therapy given?

At the Community Cancer Center, HDR radiation therapy may be one aspect of the patient’s cancer treatment. Gynecologic cancers including uterine and cervical cancer, as well as some types of prostate cancers have been effectively treated with HDR. There is a newer version of HDR brachytherapy called Mammosite® for breast cancer that we use in conjunction with lumpectomy to deliver partial breast irradiation (PBI) to treat a very specific area just around the tumor bed.

This technique eliminates any microscopic disease that may be left behind. The area that is radiated is localized, only about one centimeter from where the catheter is placed in the breast. With the Mammosite® Radiation Therapy System we can treat these tumors with five days of radiation compared to six weeks of external radiation beam therapy.

I have heard about single dose radiation called IORT. Does Community Health Network have that?

Yes, Community Regional Cancer Centers are the only oncology services in the Indianapolis area to offer IORT (IntraBeam System® by Zeiss), which stands for intraoperative radiation therapy. We often use this type of therapy for women with early stage invasive breast cancer. IORT delivers a single “booster” dose of radiation at the time of the lumpectomy. This concentrated IORT dose is given to a tumor bed during surgery. IORT helps to eliminate microscopic disease, reduce future radiation treatments and help preserve healthy tissue. Watch a video about IORT.

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Community Health Network is the first healthcare organization to achieve system-wide recognition by MD Anderson Cancer Network® as a certified member. The five hospital locations providing qualified cancer services in the network have met the rigorous standards to treat cancer patients with MD Anderson evidence-based guidelines and best practices. Learn more.