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Radiation Therapy Targets Tumors

Posted by S. Peter Wu, MD
Radiation Oncologist
Patricia Lynch Cancer Center at Holy Name Medical Center on November 25, 2019

Peter Wu, MD, Radiation Oncologist, Patricia Lynch Cancer Center at Holy Name Medical Center

Radiation therapy treats cancer using high-energy particles or electromagnetic waves, such as X-rays, gamma rays, electron beams, or protons, to destroy or damage cancer cells.

Here at the Patricia Lynch Cancer Center, our state-of-the-art technology and treatment options are equal or exceed those found in larger academic medical centers. Patients are provided with the latest treatment advances, delivered by a highly skilled team and supported by the convenience of being close to home.

Treating Precisely and Accurately

Unlike chemotherapy, which usually exposes the whole body to cancer-fighting medications, radiation therapy is aimed at the specific part of the body. Precise treatment planning pinpoints the location so that nearby healthy cells are less likely to be harmed.

Radiation therapy may be a solo treatment or may be combined with other cancer therapies - including surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and/or targeted therapies - for patients with all types of cancers, most commonly cancers of the lung, breast, prostate, head, or neck.

As a primary treatment, radiation is used to eliminate or shrink a tumor. Some patients may receive radiation therapy before surgery or following it to prevent cancer cells from returning.

Treatment Approaches

There are two main treatment approaches in radiation therapy:

  • External-beam radiation therapy, during which a machine called a linear accelerator delivers radiation to the area of the body affected by cancer
  • Brachytherapy, which places tiny pellets of radioactive material directly inside the body near the cancer cells for a short period of time

A special type of radiation therapy – called stereotactic radiosurgery – also delivers radiation from outside the body. It is most often used to treat lesions of the brain, spine, prostate, and lungs in only one to five treatments.

For patients who respond well to systemic treatments, stereotactic radiosurgery has been shown to improve survival rates.

One of the most exciting advances in radiation medicine today is using stereotactic radiosurgery to eradicate all evidence of cancer in some patients who have stage IV cancer.

For some patients with early-stage lung cancer and prostate cancer, stereotactic radiosurgery may be done instead of surgery and be the only treatment needed.

State-of-the-Art Treatment with TrueBeam®

Holy Name's TrueBeam® treatment system is an option that sets our Radiation Oncology Department apart. TrueBeam is the gold standard in delivering targeted radiation therapy accurately and quickly.

The versatile TrueBeam offers distinct advantages for patients:

  • The system's image-guided, three-dimensional CT scan works in real time, so tumors in areas that are likely to move can be tracked and pinpointed at the moment of treatment.
  • Superior accuracy means treatments can be completed more quickly than with other systems; for example, treatments that may take up to an hour or longer on other systems now can take minutes.
  • Quicker treatment times mean patients can expect radiation treatment visits to be quick and convenient, often taking less than 45 minutes from check-in to check-out.

Special technology, called respiratory gating and abdominal compression, may be used to treat tumors that can move when a patient breathes. These technologies enable physicians to focus the radiation beams and to time the treatment to exactly the moment the tumor is in the best place.

Promising New Injectables

Holy Name is on the leading edge of radiation therapy advances with our use of radio-pharmaceutical injectable drugs, an exciting breakthrough in our field. A radio-pharmaceutical is a liquid or solid drug made up of radioactive substances, which is given as an infusion into a patient’s vein or swallowed by mouth. The radioactive compound travels through the patient’s blood to deliver the treatment specifically to the tumor, to which it is chemically linked. This targeted therapy – used to diagnose and treat tumors – has been particularly effective for some prostate cancers and neuroendocrine tumors of the pancreas and stomach.

Radiation for Stage IV Patients

Even if cancer has spread, radiation therapy may be helpful in shrinking tumors so that a person can feel better. Called palliative radiation, this type of treatment may help relieve pain, ease trouble swallowing or breathing, or prevent fractures.

At Holy Name we offer a range of the best options for patients within a community setting.

Dr. Wu has completed specialized training in advanced radiation therapies and is adept at providing precise and comprehensive radiation therapy for all types of cancers. He has completed specialized training in high dose-rate brachytherapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Wu is a member of the American Society of Therapeutic Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). He has extensive experience in clinical research, computational biology, and statistics; he has authored more than 20 research papers.

To make an appointment with Dr. Wu, visit holynamemedicalpartners.org.

To learn more about radiation therapy, visit holyname.org/PLCancerCenter/radiation-oncology.