How Radiation Therapy Works

How Radiation Therapy Works

When they’re diagnosed with cancer, many people have questions about radiation therapy. They ask, “How does radiation therapy work?” and, “How does radiation treat cancer?” By delivering targeted radiation to cancer cells, doctors keep tumors from growing and spreading. When cancer cells can no longer reproduce, they die off, causing tumors to shrink or even disappear altogether.

Although there are several types of radiation therapy available, there are similarities and differences to how radiation therapy works in every case. Many conventional radiation therapy technologies can only deliver limited dosages of radiation to cancer cells. Because the accuracy of these machines is limited, it’s only safe to deliver low dosages of radiation. As a result, patients sometimes go through longer treatment periods, such as 45 treatments, once per day for up to eight weeks.

CyberKnife delivers targeted radiation therapy in one to five treatments, completed in less than a week. Because of its real-time advanced tumor imaging, tumor-tracking software, and ultra-precise robotic technology, CyberKnife is far more accurate than standard radiation treatment technologies. It’s accuracy, down to the sub-millimeter, means that it can target cancer cells with higher radiation dosages. Higher radiation dosages ablate tumors quickly and make them less likely to return.

Radiation in Everyday Life

People often feel afraid when they hear the word “radiation,” but radiation isn’t harmful unless you’re exposed to too much of it. Every day, the sun’s rays expose your body to low levels of ultraviolet radiation. Unless you spend too much time in the sun without using sunscreen, the sun’s rays don’t harm you.

People also experience low-level radiation exposure in other everyday scenarios. For example, common medical scans, like X-rays, expose patients to low-level radiation, but they’re completely safe and effective. Radiation doesn’t hurt your body unless you receive a dangerously high dose. In our cancer treatment centers, board-certified radiation oncologists and medical physicists calculate an effective but safe radiation dosage for your tumors. CyberKnife delivers each dosage accurately, preventing healthy tissue from being damaged by the radiation treatment.

What Does Radiation Therapy Do?

Within each cell in your body, both healthy cells and cancerous cells, lies a nucleus that contains molecules called DNA. Within your DNA, your body stores the genetic codes that tell your cells how to divide and grow. Doctors treat cancer by exposing cancer cells to enough radiation to destroy their DNA.

What Is Radiation Therapy Used For?

When cells are exposed to too much radiation, their DNA becomes damaged. Cells can no longer grow and divide, and they eventually die without replacing themselves.

Radiation therapy destroys cancer cells, leaving most healthy cells undamaged. In most cases, doctors do target a small number of healthy cells around the tumor to make sure that the cancer doesn’t spread, and also due to technology limitations. Thanks to the advances of the CyberKnife System, doctors can now target radiation beams with unmatched pinpoint precision. You get the benefits that come from radiation treatment with little damage to healthy cells. Ultimately, CyberKnife treatment results in minimized side effects and a better quality of life, and after only one to five sessions.

How Is Radiation Therapy Given?

Some types of radiation treatment are given internally. People drink liquid containing radioactive elements, or doctors implant tiny pieces of radioactive material near a tumor. CyberKnife provides a type of radiation therapy called external beam therapy, with a unique robotic system. It’s a machine, located outside of your body that delivers a dose of targeted radiation with pinpoint precision to cancer cells.

One of the challenges of treating cancer in the prostate, liver, lungs, and other areas of the body is that these organs move constantly. Conventional radiation therapy required patients to be placed into painful compression devices as a way to keep the tumors still. When treating brain tumors, doctors often mount immobilizing devices into a patient’s skull; for prostate cancer treatment, doctors insert balloons into the patient’s rectum. CyberKnife eliminates the need for painful techniques like these because it can adjust to even sub-millimeter changes in a tumor’s position. With its real-time, tumor-tracking software, advanced robotic arm, and continuous image guidance, CyberKnife keeps its radiation beams right on target.

What Happens During Treatment?

During your treatment, you’ll lie on a couch while the CyberKnife System moves around you. The moving robotics delivers radiation from multiple angles, treating the tumors from all angles to kill more cancer cells more effectively. Treatments are pain free and patients typically return to normal daily activities even on the day of treatment.

CyberKnife is:

  • Accurate to the sub-millimeter. Thanks to sensitive robotics technology, advanced image guidance and real-time tumor-tracking software, the CyberKnife system targets cancer cells with extraordinary precision. It can adjust to even the slightest patient and tumor movement during treatment, ensuring that radiation treats only the cancerous cells.
  • Able to target inoperable or recurrent tumors. CyberKnife radiation therapy can treat tumors that are deep within the tissue or located in a hard-to-reach place in the body. It provides a non-invasive alternative treatment for tumors that are too complex for traditional surgery, and it’s an option for patients that want to avoid having an operation.
  • Pain-free. You’ll feel no sensation during CyberKnife treatment. Because there’s no pain or blood loss, and minimal radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissues, most patients return to regular activities on the day of treatment, with limited side effects.
  • Available without anesthesia or hospital stay. CyberKnife treatment doesn’t require anesthesia, which means there are fewer risks for complications. Treatments are also completed in a comfortable outpatient setting.
  • Covered by most insurance policies. CyberKnife treatments are covered by Medicare and most other insurances. Our staff at Pasadena Cyberknife Center will contact your insurance for approvals.

How Long Does Radiation Therapy Take?

CyberKnife treatments require one to five sessions that are typically completed in less than one week. Depending on the complexity, location, and movement of the tumor, treatments can range from 10 minutes to an hour. Unlike standard radiation treatments on other technologies, you won’t have to deal with visiting a cancer treatment center for weeks on end. Also, you’ll be able to resume your normal activities on the day of your treatment.

After your treatment, your oncologist will monitor your tumors to follow the progression of the radiation treatments. If the goal was to shrink your tumors before surgery, you might have surgery following your CyberKnife treatment. Many oncologists also prescribe radiation therapy after surgery to eliminate any cancer cells that surgery left behind. Monitoring your progress is an important part of treatment, so make sure to keep all of your follow-up appointments.

Recurrent Cancers (Cancers That Return)

CyberKnife now provides new hope to patients that have previously had radiation and have been told that further radiation is no longer an option, but their cancer has returned. Contact our center immediately if you are in this position. Due to the accuracy of CyberKnife, the radiation beams can accurately target the tumor itself and not the surrounding healthy tissue.

Getting Started

Contact our center today to set up a consult with one of our board-certified radiation oncologists about any questions you have, including about how radiation treats cancer and how does radiation therapy work. Our cancer specialists provide all forms of radiation therapy available and will work together with you to determine if CyberKnife treatment is right for you, either by itself or delivered along with surgery, chemotherapy, or even with another form of radiation. We accept patients that are self-referred, or are referred from a doctor.

Radiation therapy can eliminate and/or shrink many types of tumors. It can extend your life and make you more feel comfortable. Learn more about what CyberKnife treatment can do. Schedule your consultation today by calling 626-768-1021.

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