Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy

Technology advancements in radiation therapy have allowed treatment to be tailored to a patient's tumor type, size, and location to minimize the risk of damage to healthy tissue, improve survival, and minimize potentially serious side effects.

While radiologists once drew up treatment plans with a wax pencil on X-ray films, they now construct intricate, computerized treatment plans based on 3-D images of the tumor and can vary both the shape and intensity of radiation beams. One of the earliest radiation techniques, brachytherapy, now offers effective treatment for prostate, cervical and other tumors by directly implanting small radioactive sources temporarily or permanently into tumors via remote-operated equipment.

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2016

A new standard of care for high-risk, low-grade gliomas

A new standard of care for high-risk, low-grade gliomas

A federally-funded clinical trial shows that adding a chemotherapy regimen called PCV (procarbazine, CCNU, and vincristine) to radiation therapy slows cancer growth of grade 2 glioma and extends survival by a median of 5 years. Grade 2 gliomas are a rare, slow-growing type of brain tumor that occur most often in young people. As a result of this study, PCV chemotherapy after radiation therapy is now the standard of care for high-risk, low-grade gliomas.

2012

Adding radiation to chemotherapy after surgery still benefits some patients

Adding radiation to chemotherapy after surgery still benefits some patients

Building on the results of a 2011 Korean trial, a study suggests that for patients with stomach cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes, there is a small but significant improvement in survival from adding radiation to adjuvant (post-surgical) chemotherapy, in this case using the drugs capecitabine (Xeloda) and cisplatin. A larger trial is currently underway to confirm these results.

Because radiation only slightly improved outcomes, adjuvant chemotherapy alone after aggressive surgery also remains a viable treatment option for certain patients.

2009

Radiation after surgery or hormone therapy improves survival

Radiation after surgery or hormone therapy improves survival

Findings from a long-running clinical trial show that radiation therapy after surgery (known as adjuvant radiation) reduces the risk that prostate cancer will spread and increases survival time by nearly 30 percent in men with early-stage disease. A separate study finds that adding external beam radiation treatment to standard hormone therapy in prostate cancer that has spread to the surrounding areas can reduce the risk of death by more than 40 percent.

2007

Shorter course of radiation therapy is as effective as less frequent radiation therapy for early-stage breast cancer

Shorter course of radiation therapy is as effective as less frequent radiation therapy for early-stage breast cancer

Findings from the START Trial suggest that "hypofractionated" radiation therapy, which involves fewer but larger doses of radiation delivered over a shorter period of time, is as effective as conventional radiation for reducing the risk of cancer recurrence among women with early-stage breast cancer, and does not cause greater damage to healthy breast tissue. Since traditional radiation therapy for breast cancer can take five to six weeks to complete, this shorter course (as little as three weeks) is a more convenient option for some patients and makes it easier to complete all cycles of treatment.

2006

Genetic mutations affect survival for oligodendroglioma

Genetic mutations affect survival for oligodendroglioma

Two studies find that patients with oligodendroglioma tumors (a form of glioma) that lack certain parts of chromosomes 1 and 19 are more sensitive to treatment and have better survival than patients whose tumors are not missing this genetic material. Follow-up data later show that these patients fare much better, living several years longer, when they receive chemotherapy and radiation together, rather than radiation alone. 

2005

High-dose radiation helps men avoid cancer recurrence

High-dose radiation helps men avoid cancer recurrence

Studies find that men with localized prostate cancer who receive radiation treatment at a higher dose than was traditionally provided are less likely to have their cancer recur than men who receive conventional radiation. The high-dose approach is made possible by technological advances that allow doctors to precisely target more radiation to the tumor, while sparing healthy tissue.

2004

Chemotherapy and radiation before surgery reduce side effects for rectal cancer patients

Chemotherapy and radiation before surgery reduce side effects for rectal cancer patients

Results from a large clinical study show that giving chemotherapy and radiation therapy before, rather than after, rectal cancer surgery reduces the risk of local recurrence (cancer recurrence in the pelvis, near the original tumor). Survival was similar in both approaches, but because the pre-surgery treatment regimen was more tolerable, it is now the standard approach for treatment of rectal cancer.

2001

Adjuvant therapy improves long-term survival for patients with early-stage stomach cancer

Adjuvant therapy improves long-term survival for patients with early-stage stomach cancer

In 2001, a major trial shows that giving patients chemotherapy and radiation after surgery – an approach known as adjuvant therapy – significantly improves survival. The study compared surgery alone with surgery followed by the chemotherapy drugs fluorouracil and leucovorin, together with radiation.

These findings quickly establish adjuvant chemotherapy and radiation as a standard of care, and make stomach cancer one of several cancers in which adjuvant therapy can increase patients' chances of cure.