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What Is Radiation Oncology?

Radiation therapy effectively treats cancer by using high-energy beams to pinpoint and destroy cancerous cells. Radiation is a proven method for treating many cancers, as well as certain non-cancerous conditions. Around 50 to 60 percent of cancer patients will receive some form of radiation during the course of their disease. Radiation can be used to cure or control cancer, and to reduce the severity of pain.

The first part of planning an individual's radiation treatment requires a simulation. This involves "mapping" the area that will be treated. The simulator in SwedishAmerican's Radiation Oncology department is a CT Scanner — a computerized X-ray machine that obtains images of an individual's internal structures at a specific body site. During the simulation, patients lay on a table in a position designated by the doctor. Every attempt is made to ensure patient comfort during the simulation, which takes about 10 minutes. Patients are not required to hold their breath, and there is no sensation that results from the simulation. Some marks will be placed on the patient to determine where future radiation treatments will be aimed. Following the simulation, patients are given an appointment time to come back and begin their actual radiation treatments.

CT Scanner

CT Scanner

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy X-rays and electrons beams that are targeted to damage the malignant cells, thus destroying the cancer's ability to grow. When a patient receives external-beam radiation therapy, the high-energy X-rays or electrons are directed from outside of the body, usually by a large machine called a linear accelerator. Radiation therapy is a local treatment. There is no pain associated with it; it is like having an X-ray picture taken, but the dose is stronger and given over a longer period of time. The radiation only affects the part of the body being treated.

Linear Accelerator

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) uses a special computer program to alter the intensity of radiation within a field. This varying of the beam's intensity allows the delivery of higher doses to the tumor, while delivering smaller doses to surrounding normal tissue. The higher doses to the tumor or cancer area result in better control of the disease, while lower doses to surrounding normal tissues result in fewer side effects. IMRT treatment may not be appropriate for certain types of cancers.

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

Stereotactic Body Radiation Treatments (SBRT)

Stereotactic Body Radiation Treatments (SBRT) is a treatment technique designed to deliver radiation therapy very precisely to tumors located throughout the body, using advanced imaging techniques (IGRT). SBRT technology allows the beam to be delivered with pinpoint accuracy while taking into account movement of a tumor based on a patient’s breathing pattern.

With this advancement in accuracy, it is possible to target the cancer with higher doses, thus improving the likelihood of killing more cancer cells while protecting normal tissues. The additional benefit of improved accuracy and a higher dose means treatments can be completed in a shorter period of time. SBRT treatment usually involves three to five treatments given over one to two weeks.

While SBRT is not for every type of cancer, it has been proven a very effective treatment for early stage lung cancer, gastrointestinal tumors, pancreatic tumors, and cancers of the liver and spine. In the treatment of lung tumors there is convincing evidence in the United States, Japan and Europe that SBRT treatment may be as effective as surgery in early stage lung cancers, for those whom surgery may not be an option.

Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT)

By imaging the determined treatment area before treatment begins, Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) makes it possible to precisely pinpoint the location of the cancer area. Accuracy also is ensured through the use of Vision RT—real-time tracking technology for motion management. In order to address the challenges of patient positioning and setup, patient motion during radiation therapy and safe implementation of high dose, Vision RT tracks the patient’s 3D surface in real time, calculating precisely any patient movement and monitoring respiration motion. Any motion exceeding clinical acceptable tolerances can be detected automatically and the beam held to ensure precise targeting of the tumor volume.


With another form of radiation therapy, termed "brachytherapy," the radioactive sources can be placed on the body surface or surgically implanted inside the body. Some implants can be left inside a person forever, like seed implants for prostate cancer. Other types will need to be removed after a determined period of time by the oncologist. The advantage of brachytherapy is that it concentrates the dose of radiation nearer to the cancer and can lessen the chance of damage to normal tissue nearby. Types of implants are dependent on the size and location of the cancer.

Mammosite Machine

Mammosite Machine

Mammosite is one of the latest advances for treatment of early stage breast cancer. This approach, which has become the most widely-accepted form of partial breast irradiation, gives patients the option of having treatment completed in five days, versus the usual six weeks of external beam radiation. A patient will receive two treatments per day for five days. At the end of five days, the balloon catheter is deflated and removed, and the patient has completed their entire course of radiation therapy. To qualify for this outpatient treatment, patients must have early stage, node negative breast cancer and meet certain other criteria.
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Rockford, IL 61104
(779) 696-4400


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