In this installment radiation therapy as a treatment for cancer we will look deeper into why some cancer patients receive radiation and some don't. We will also concentrate on how individual radiation therapy differs from patient to patient.
Radiation therapy is administered with two different intents: curative and palliative. When radiation is given with a curative intent the hope that physicians have is that it will cure the cancer. The treatment is given with the goal of eliminating the tumor and/or preventing a reoccurrence. When radiation is administered as a cure it can be delivered alone or in conjunction with surgery and/or chemotherapy.
When radiation is administered with a palliative intent the objective is no longer a cure but instead given to relieve the symptoms and reduce any suffering that may be occurring because of the location of the cancer. Often palliative radiation therapy is given to patients suffering with brain cancer, when the cancer is pressing on the spine or near the esophagus.
The treatment of cancer is individualized to each unique patient scenario. Treatment planning begins with a radiation oncologist performs simulation. During simulation, imaging scans are taken to show the size and location of tumors and the area surrounding the tumor. There are a number of scans that can be used during this process including CT scans, MRI's, PET's and ultrasound.
The most common method involves CT scans. The process of performing a CT scan is fairly straight forward. The cancer patient will have pictures taken of the inside of their bodies using a computer that is connected to an x-ray machine. It is important during any simulation scans that the patient remains still and is located in the exact same location each time. To help cancer patients stay positioned for longer periods of times, molds and head masks have been constructed.
Once the simulation is performed and the radiation oncologist is pleased with the images obtained they can create a detail plan for treatment. This plan will include exact details on the size and location of the tumor, the size of the area to be treated, the dose of radiation that will be given, how much of the normal tissue will be exposed and the safest angle to direct the radiation. Once the plan is approved treatment will begin.
Certain tissues are more delicate than others therefore the method in which radiation therapy is given differs. In some cases radiation is delivered through external beams using a machine known as a linear accelerator or linac for short. Internal radiation is another method used to provide radiation therapy. Your radiation oncologist will authorize the best course of action for the specific cancer being addressed.
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