What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is a type of treatment that targets tumours. Cancerous (malignant) and non cancerous (benign) tumours can be treated with radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy treatment is a high energy external radiation beams that target tumours. These beams are used to control, shrink and, where possible, eradicate tumours. Although these beams contain radiation they will not make you radioactive; you can continue to mix with other people safely throughout your treatment.

Radiotherapy treatment is usually planned as a series of fractions (treatment sessions). These sessions are generally completed in several minutes and are split over a number of days or weeks. Radiotherapy tends to be an outpatient treatment, which means you do not have to be admitted to hospital.

Types of radiotherapy

There are various radiotherapy techniques which can be used to ensure that treatment is as effective as possible. Your clinical oncologist will explain the different treatment options available to best treat your condition.

Image guided radiotherapy (IGRT)+

Image guided radiotherapy or IGRT is a treatment technique that includes the use of x-rays and CT scans. These scans capture images just before a treatment session to confirm the position and size of the tumour so that the radiotherapy beams can be targeted as accurately as possible. This technique allows us to keep abreast of any changes in the tumour size or shape during the treatment cycle. Because tumours can change during treatment IGRT allows the team to make any necessary adjustments and ensure treatment is delivered with pinpoint accuracy.

Intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)+

Intensity modulated radiotherapy or IMRT is a treatment technique which allows radiotherapy beams to be adjusted, therefore different parts of the treatment area can be targeted with different dose beams. This means that lower doses of radiotherapy affect healthy surrounding tissue, reducing the immediate and long term effects of treatment.

IMRT is particularly useful in treating tumours which have formed close to important organs in the body because it minimises damage to healthy tissue and reduces side effects of treatment.

Prophylactic cranial radiotherapy (PCR)+

Prophylactic cranial radiotherapy or PCR is a preventative treatment technique, used to prevent or delay cancer spreading to the brain. High energy radiation beams are used to target the head. PCR is a course of short daily treatment sessions, each session lasting a few minutes. The number of treatment sessions prescribed will depend on your individual medical condition and your consultant oncologist will discuss this with you.

RapidArc or volume modulated arc therapy (VMAT)+

RapidArc therapy, also known as Volume Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT), involves 3D volume imaging to maximise the radiation dose used to target the tumour whilst minimising damage to any healthy surrounding tissue. VMAT or RapidArc treatments are highly accurate because the dose rate, beam and leaf speed are individually controlled and are quicker to deliver than other types of radiotherapy.

Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR)+

Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy treatment, or SABR, can stop cancer cells growing, reduce the size of tumours and, where possible, eliminate them. SABR targets tumours with small and fine beams. The beams which need to travel through healthy tissue are low dose and therefore minimise any damage and long term effects of treatment. SABR treatment tends to be a shorter course than other techniques.