Basics of Radiation Therapy

What Is Radiation Therapy?

At Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, our Radiation Oncology staff is happy to answer of your questions concerning radiation therapy. Here is some basic information to get you started.

Radiation therapy may be used in several ways. In patients with cancer, radiation therapy can be:

  • The primary treatment for certain cancer, such as early-stage larynx cancer.
  • Used together with hormones, surgery or chemotherapy in the treatment of some cancers, such as prostate cancer or advanced head and neck cancer.
  • Used as additional therapy following surgery or chemotherapy treatment (for example, for breast cancer or lymphomas).

Radiation therapy is also used:

  • To keep stents open in patients with heart or vascular disease.
  • As a palliative therapy to relieve symptoms such as pain, obstructed blood flow or other problems associated with tumors.
  • In the treatment of certain benign (noncancerous) conditions.

How Radiation Therapy Works

Radiation therapy uses a machine called a linear accelerator or a radioactive source to produce radiation beams. These beams are focused on the specific area of the body that needs treatment.

At Lahey, our radiation oncologists have special expertise and experience in delivering the precise level of radiation to the exact part of the body where it is needed. Our risk-adapted philosophy aims to treat patients with the least amount of radiation required to deliver the best outcomes.

Radiation therapy is proven to be a highly effective treatment. Your Lahey radiation oncologist will discuss your unique medical situation with you at the time of your consultation and will help you assess benefits versus any risks.

The Importance of Simulation

An important step in your treatment is simulation, which is done following your initial consultation with your radiation oncologist. Three-dimensional treatment simulation uses CT imaging or CT imaging enhanced fusion technology with clinical input from PET or MRI imaging to precisely map the tumor location. This helps us “shape” radiation beams to provide highly targeted, optimal treatment to the tumor site, while shielding unaffected, normal tissues.

After the specific part of your body to be treated is identified, tattoos are typically placed on your skin to guide the most precise course of treatment. Although these tattoos are permanent, they are tiny pinprick marks that are usually barely noticeable. If desired, methods such as dermabrasion can be used to remove these tattoos after treatment is completed.