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In the United States, nearly 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. And while cancer is, undeniably, a life-changing experience for both patients and their loved ones, more people than ever are surviving and living well with cancer as a chronic disease for years.
But to reach that point, you first need an accurate and timely diagnosis, along with the most effective treatment plan for your particular cancer and condition. And in about half of all cases, that plan will include some form of radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells. It’s been used safely and effectively for years, and boasts a wide variety of technologies and approaches tailored to specific types of tumors and locations. Now, recent advances in the field are making radiation treatment even faster, easier and better.
A case in point is the emergence and continuing evolution of stereotactic radiation surgery/stereotactic body radiation therapy (SRS/SBRT) over the last decade or so.
Speed, Comfort and Convenience
Basically, stereotactic radiation strives to equal or even exceed the results obtained through surgery but non-invasively. It can be used to reach cancerous and non-cancerous tumors just about anywhere in the body: head and neck, lung, pancreas, prostate, liver, spine and more. SRS/SBRT works by delivering a large dose of radiation, quickly, precisely and painlessly.
For example, a complete course of radiation therapy using conventional means takes anywhere from six to seven weeks. By contrast, that same course of therapy with the Edge™ Radiosurgery system—the SRS/SBRT technology we use at MedStar Washington Hospital Center—can be finished in one to five sessions, with each treatment lasting only 10 to 15 minutes. That’s a huge convenience for busy patients who can now spend less time lying motionless in position on the treatment table, and more time back doing their daily activities.
Dr. Pamela Randolph-Jackson discusses stereotactic radiation therapy further on the Medical Intel podcast.
Treatment with stereotactic radiosurgery is so quick because of its submillimeter accuracy. Its exquisite precision lets us deliver much higher dosages than traditional radiation therapy: The Edge system, for example, has the highest dose rate of any machine currently in the industry.
Along with allowing for stronger dosing, that same precision further reduces the risk of exposing surrounding healthy tissue to unnecessary radiation.
Finding the Best Radiation Therapy for You
It’s important to remember that not all cancers can be treated with radiation therapy. The criteria are very specific as to the acceptable type and size of tumor, and even that can vary from one device to another.
However, if radiation therapy is included as part of your treatment plan, you should ask whether or not you may be a candidate for stereotactic therapy versus a traditional approach.
From my perspective, SRS/SBRT treatment is just easier, more time-effective and comfortable than any other radiation therapy in use today, from start to finish. Stereotactic therapy uses few, if any fiducials—previously placed internal markers to pinpoint the tumor. There’s little to no breath-holding with the faster SRS/SBRT, an important consideration for people with lung cancer or other tumors that move with breathing. Individual stereotactic treatments are faster, and the entire course of therapy is over much sooner.
Regardless of the type of radiation therapy you receive, however, you will end up getting the same amount of radiation with SRS/SBRT as you would with traditional therapy, just over a shorter time.
The bottom line? Radiation therapy is highly effective for the right cancers no matter how it’s administered. But be aware of the different options out there, and ask your radiation oncologist if SRS/SBRT might be right for you.