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Advances in technology have played a vital role in improving long-term outcomes for cancer patients. More than ever, radiation oncologists have more tools at their disposal to treat patients in a faster and more precise way.

Radiation therapy is one of the most common cancer treatments. It can be used alone or with other treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy. There are two main types of radiation therapy, external and internal beam radiation therapy. 

External Radiation

External radiation (or external beam radiation) is the most common type. A machine is used to aim high-energy rays (or beams) from outside the body into the tumor. These machines focus the radiation on an exact location, so healthy tissues are protected.

There are several new techniques and systems that allow for faster, more precise treatments than ever before. 

  • AlignRT® uses a 3D camera system to track the body surface in real time and helps position the patient accurately before radiation therapy to ensure they keep that position during treatment. Using the external skin surface, the technology monitors movement and knows exactly where a patient is at any moment to within a fraction of a millimeter. If the patient moves, the treatment pauses – preserving healthy tissues.
  • The Varian Edge™ stereotactic radiosurgery system gives a large dose of radiation to a hard-to-reach area, in a few short sessions. Once the exact location of the tumor is known from scans, radiation is sent to the area from many different angles. It’s called “radiosurgery” because it is so exact, like surgical precision, but with no incision. Through accuracy checks every 10 milliseconds, there is minimal impact on surrounding healthy tissue.
  • Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) integrates a lumpectomy (the removal of a tumor from the breast) and radiation treatment into a single surgery. During IORT, a precise, concentrated radiation dose is delivered to the tumor site immediately after it’s removed. Typically, standard radiation therapy involves treatment for several weeks. With IORT, cancer is virtually eliminated in one treatment.

Internal Radiation

Internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy involves putting the source of radiation inside the body. In brachytherapy, instead of using radiation beams delivered by special equipment, radioactive material is placed directly into, or as close as possible to the cancer. The radioactive material is placed in this way to spare as many healthy cells as possible.

There are two types:

  • During intracavitary radiation, the radioactive source is placed in a body cavity (space).
  • With interstitial radiation, the implants are placed in or near the tumor, but not in a body cavity.

Should you or a loved one receive a cancer diagnosis, choosing the right care team and hospital is important. Look for a hospital that can not only give you access to the latest advances in cancer care, but also a treatment plan that is a customized for you. Talk to your primary care physician about these advanced technologies and how they can make them available to you.

You may have some concerns about potential exposure to COVID‐19 if you seek treatment in a hospital. Rest assured hospitals have taken every precaution has been taken to ensure the safety of patients and staff. Your health won’t wait. Seek care when you need it.