Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells only in the treated area.
Radiation therapy approaches to lung cancer at RPCI include the following:
External Beam Radiotherapy: This is the most common type of radiation therapy for lung cancer. The radiation comes from a large machine outside your body. Most people go to a hospital or clinic for treatment. Treatments are usually five days a week for several weeks.
Internal Radiotherapy: Also known as brachytherapy. Internal radiation is seldom used for people with lung cancer. The radiation comes from a seed, wire, or another device put inside the body.
Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT): Traditional radiation therapy, six to seven weeks of daily treatment, has low rates of disease control for lung cancer and high rates of side effects. At Roswell Park, we offer patients another option, SBRT. With SBRT our radiation oncologists deliver higher and more effective radiation doses in just three treatments or less.
With SBRT, radiation is directed to the tumor with unprecedented precision, sparing surrounding healthy tissue. A cone-beam CT scan pinpoints the tumor, tracking how it moves as the patient breathes. Abdominal compression devices limit tumor movement as the radiation is delivered.
"We are on the forefront of stereotactic body radiation therapy with lung cancer patients." - Anurag Singh, MD
SBRT offers an effective treatment option for patients who cannot undergo surgery. Other advantages include:
SBRT is becoming the preferred treatment for early-stage, non-small cell lung cancer in patients who cannot tolerate surgery. Compared to the traditional radiation approach, SBRT triples the five-year survival rate, from 10 percent - 30 percent. For more than 95 percent of those patients, the tumor never grows back and often death is from other causes than lung cancer.
If radiation therapy is part of your lung cancer treatment plan, choosing where to have your treatments is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Consider these key points before beginning any treatment:
Is the facility a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center?
Why this is important: NCI-designated cancer centers are recognized for their scientific excellence and quality patient care. They are a major source of discovery and development of more effective approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment and deliver these medical advances to their patients. A Comprehensive Cancer Center, such as Roswell Park, means the facility is also a leader in research, including laboratory, clinical, behavioral and population-based studies.
Will your treatment be planned and coordinated in concert with your other on-site cancer specialists -- your surgeon and medical oncologist -- to provide you with comprehensive, fully integrated treatment?
Why this is important: Many cancer patients need radiation therapy in addition to chemotherapy, biologic therapy and surgery. Some patients have radiotherapy during surgery, called intraoperative radiotherapy (IORT). The type of radiotherapy you receive and the timing of it must be integrated with the other treatments in your plan. Having all these specialists on your medical team — surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists, plus immunologists, psychologists, nutritionists and social workers — working under one roof, and collaborating on a regular basis to assess and evaluate your treatment and day-to-day needs, provides the highest degree of comprehensive care.
Is your treatment planned and provided by a multidisciplinary team of radiation medicine specialists?
Why this is important: The Department of Radiation Oncology at Roswell Park is the regional leader in innovative treatment methodologies. Our radiation team of specialists includes board-certified radiation oncologists, medical physicists, and dosimetrists. These specialists work closely with our physician assistants, registered nurses, radiation therapists and other support staff to develop a customized treatment plan specifically for you that is based on the most up-to-date, peer-reviewed research. Each physician on the radiation oncology team specializes in a particular type of cancer.
Are the faculty on-site, full-time radiation specialists with a manageable patient load?
Why this is important: You need and deserve to be treated by a team whose full-time job and primary focus is your care. Radiation therapy mandates accurate and careful planning, timing, dosing and marking with ultimate precision. Some treatment centers have multiple locations manned by just one physician and staffed by per diem or part-time personnel without the experience or specialty in radiation medicine.
Does the cancer center offer access to clinical research studies through which you might benefit from the latest methodologies?
Why this is important: Although the number of lung cancer patients who are cured is rising each day, researchers continue to study new ways to deliver radiation therapy more effectively and safely. The latest, cutting-edge treatments are often available to patients only through a clinical research study. Because it can take years for a new treatment to become part of the standard of care, having access to new therapies in clinical research can be critical to treating your cancer.