You've just learned you have cancer. Your life has been turned upside down amidst a whirlwind of treatment information and choices. Much of it is difficult to understand.
Part of your treatment plan calls for radiation therapy, among other therapies. How do you decide on a course of treatment, including radiation therapy?
VIDEO: RADIATION TREATMENT OPTIONS WITH NEIL A. DAS GUPTA, M.D.
Coordination of care Cancer is a journey that no one expects to take. And like any long journey, you'll need preparation, information and encouragement. Your health care team will help you travel this road.
"First, it's important to consult with an oncologist who can help you navigate through the myriad of treatment options," says Neil Das Gupta, MD, director of radiation oncology at Edward Cancer Center and a radiation oncologist with Fox Valley Radiation Oncologists. "Your oncologist will coordinate care with other physicians, such as radiation oncologists, specialty trained nurses, nurse case managers (such as a breast care coordinator), social workers, and possibly others." Read white paper, Navigating Radiation Treatment Options, from Photons to Protons, or watch video (right).
For complex cancers a multidisciplinary approach gives you a chance to see several experienced cancer specialists in one location resulting in coordinated, faster, more efficient treatment.
The basics of radiation therapy Radiation is used to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells so they're no longer able to grow. It can be used alone or along with surgery and/or chemotherapy.
There are a variety of ways radiation therapy can be given to patients, including:
External-beam radiation therapy...delivered by a machine outside the body;
Internal radiation therapy...radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells; and
Systemic radiation therapy...radioactive substance given by mouth or vein that travels by blood to the body's tissues
External beam radiation therapy using photon beams is the most commonly used and effective radiation treatment method for most cancers. Another relatively new treatment option is proton beam therapy, used for a limited range of cancers, delivers protons through external beam radiation therapy.
The Edward Cancer Centers in Naperville and Plainfield offer Rapid Arc, a precise, faster cancer treatment - a radiation treatment that would normally take ten minutes can be completed in two minutes using RapidArc.
TECHNOLOGY: RAPID ARC CANCER TREATMENT
Types of photon beam therapy include:
HDR (high dose rate brachytherapy) A type of radiation that uses a radioactive seed to deliver high-dose radiation directly to the tumor. This radioactive seed delivers extremely localized radiation into the body through a catheter, allowing patients to receive prescribed radiation in a matter of minutes. This treatment is used primarily for cervical, uterine, lung, esophageal, head and neck, and breast cancers.
MammoSite A brachytherapy treatment for breast cancer that delivers radiation inside the breast, directly to the tissue where cancer is most likely to recur, reducing average treatment time from seven weeks to five days.
IGRT (Image-Guided Radiotherapy) Image-guided radiotherapy uses sophisticated real-time imaging to precisely target tumors and place patients in the best position for treatment. IGRT is especially beneficial for tumors whose locations change on a daily basis.
IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy) A type of radiation that uses highly focused beams that can be shaped to mirror the tumor shape and deliver a more precise dose of radiation directly to the tumor, sparing surrounding tissue and organs. IMRT technology is primarily used to treat prostate, neck, and brain cancer.
Rapid Arc RapidArc is a fast, precise cancer treatment that delivers IMRT eight times faster. A ten-minute radiation treatment can be completed in two minutes using RapidArc. The entire tumor volume receives the radiation dose in one revolution of the machine so a patient experiences less discomfort during treatment. RapidArc is used most commonly for prostate and head and neck cases.
Radiosurgery A form of radiation therapy that focuses high-powered x-rays onto the abnormal area.
Respiratory Gating An advanced radiation technology that synchronizes delivery of radiation with the patient's own breathing cycle. Since tumors often move or change shape during respiration, this technique allows treatment with a high dose of radiation to cancerous tumors while sparing nearby, healthy tissue.
VIRTUAL TOURS: PLAINFIELD CANCER CENTER
What is proton therapy? Proton therapy is one form of external-beam radiation therapy that's creating headlines and a buzz as the latest treatment in the battle against cancer. And, why not? The facilities that deliver proton therapy each cost more than $140 million, are the size of a football field and have 200+ ton nuclear accelerators - all factors that are sure to draw attention.
Beyond the hype, proton therapy is another option for patients to consider for a limited number of cancers, including some cases of prostate cancer, certain tumors of the brain, base of the skull and spine, certain tumors of the eye and some cancers among children.
Proton therapy can be effective for these cancers because the radiation dose delivered can be set to "stop" at a specified depth, thereby confining most of the radiation to the targeted tumor.
However, according to radiation oncologist Dr. Das Gupta, "Claims of less damage to healthy tissue and fewer side effects than standard photon beam therapy are only theoretical. No studies or data exist to show proton therapy is any more effective at treating tumors than photon therapy. For most cancers, photon beam is the gold standard."
Patient to-do list
Consult an oncologist who can explain your treatment options.
Do your own research.
Check your insurance plan's coverage of the radiation therapies under consideration.
Build and take advantage of a support network, including family, friends and programs and services offered at your cancer center.