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Radiation Therapy

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Radiation Therapy for lung cancerRadiation therapy (also referred to as radiotherapy, x-ray therapy, or irradiation) is the use of x-rays or other high-energy beams (such as protons) to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing or multiplying. Radiation treatment machines are directed to the tumor and the surrounding area and are “on” for a few minutes, delivering radiation that can kill tumor (as well as normal) cells. Like surgery, radiation is a local form of therapy and not a systemic (whole-body) treatment like chemotherapy or targeted therapy. High doses (amounts) of radiation are given when the tumor is confined to one area of the body, with the hope that the radiation will kill all of the tumor cells in that area. This treatment might involve daily doses of radiation for six weeks or longer.

If the cancer has spread from the lungs to other parts of the body, radiation may be given in smaller doses to relieve symptoms in affected areas, such as the brain, lungs or bones. Radiation given for periods ranging from one day to four weeks can kill enough cancer cells to bring relief from symptoms such as pain, breathing difficulties and headaches. A very focused form of radiation therapy, called radiosurgery, is sometimes offered if the cancer has spread to the brain or bones.

Specialized radiation therapy

Your radiation oncologist may recommend a special type of treatment called Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) or Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (SABR); these terms mean the same thing. SBRT/SABR uses radiation from multiple angles, which allows higher doses of radiation to be precisely focused on the tumor, avoiding healthy tissue. SBRT/SABR can be used to treat some localized tumors in people who cannot have surgery due to other health conditions or to treat some tumors that cannot be surgically removed because they are in a difficult location. SBRT/SABR can be performed with many different types of machines, and different options may be presented to you depending on the machines available at a given treatment location. 

Endobronchial brachytherapy is another specialized form of radiation that may be recommended when tumors are present in the airway (bronchi or trachea). A small catheter (tube) placed via a bronchoscopy delivers highly localized radiation to the tumor while sparing nearby healthy tissue.

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This information is not designed to be a substitute for medical advice provided by your treatment team.
Last updated 7/2015

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