Radiation therapy may be used as the primary treatment to cure certain malignancies, such as early stage larynx cancer. It may be used in conjunction with hormones, surgery or chemotherapy in the treatment of some cancers, such as prostate cancer or advanced head and neck cancer. It is often used as additional therapy following surgery or chemotherapy treatment (for example, for breast cancer or lymphomas). Radiation therapy is also used to prevent restenosis or vascular occlusion in stents in patients with coronary artery disease or peripheral vascular disease; as a palliative therapy to alleviate symptoms such as pain, vascular obstruction, or other problems associated with metastases (or primary tumors); and in the treatment of certain benign conditions.
Radiation therapy uses a linear accelerator or a radioactive source to produce radiation beams that can be highly localized to focus on a very specific area of the body. A radiation oncologist is the type of physician who would prescribe a source of radiation therapy. In comparison, chemotherapy involves the administration of medications—by injection or in pill form—at the direction of a medical oncologist. Unlike radiation therapy, which can be localized to a small area, traditional chemotherapy drugs circulate through the patient's entire body.
Radiation therapy is a highly effective treatment method in most settings. The benefit/risk balance varies depending on the clinical situation. Your radiation oncologist will discuss your unique medical situation with you at the time of your consultation.
Simulation follows initial consultation with your radiation oncologist. Simulation uses fluoroscopic X-ray equipment or CT scanners to "simulate" treatment equipment to accurately localize the tumor volume and shield unaffected (normal) tissues. After the appropriate treatment fields have been identified through simulation, tattoos are typically placed on the targeted location(s) to allow for the most precise course of treatment.