Radiation therapy – also called radiation oncology or radiotherapy – uses powerful doses of radiation to destroy cancer cells. We can also use radiation therapy to stop the growth of a tumor or to relieve pain and other symptoms.
At Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, our radiation oncologists use the most advanced radiation technology available. This technology, combined with our expertise and skill, offers you a precise, effective treatment with minimal side effects.
Radiation Therapy: Why Choose Vanderbilt-Ingram?
You receive expert, compassionate care from top specialists in the field:
- Advanced technology: Effective radiation therapy is all about pinpoint precision. We work with expert medical physicists and dosimetrists (radiation therapy specialists) to plan your treatment precisely, using computed tomography (CT) scans combined with FDA-approved treatment planning systems. We map the radiation dose and angle so we do not affect surrounding healthy tissue. We use the most sophisticated radiation therapy devices to deliver faster, more accurate procedures.
- Collaboration: Treatment for cancer does not take place in a vacuum. Our entire team works to find the right treatment solution for you. You may be receiving radiation therapy before or after surgery, or along with chemotherapy. From your doctors to your nurses to your radiation therapists – we work together to treat the whole person.
- Clinical trials: We offer clinical trials testing the very latest innovations in radiation therapy. Learn more about clinical trials at Vanderbilt-Ingram.
- Caring, professional staff: Our dedicated staff members treat you like family. Patients generally come for therapy once a day for 5 to 6 weeks, so our radiation therapists, nurses and oncologists really get to know you, including your preferences, your family members and how to best help you during treatment. Our staff can also assist you with lodging if you traveling from far away.
Types of Radiation Therapy
We offer the full range of radiation therapies, including many types of external beam radiation and brachytherapy. External beam radiation therapy uses a machine to deliver a radiation beam precisely at the tumor. Types of external beam radiation therapy include:
- 3D conformal radiotherapy: Using 3D images allows the radiation oncologist to treat the tumor with precision and spare healthy tissues.
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): We deliver a precise, high-dose radiation beam to the tumor while sparing nearby organs. Our advanced software allows us to use many radiation beams at different weights and shapes.
- Volumetric modulated arc radiotherapy (VMAT): This advanced form of IMRT delivers the treatment in a shorter time. Traditional IMRT needs to stop and start multiple times in order to deliver the dose of radiation to the tumor from all angles. VMAT is able to target the entire tumor at once. The treatment typically takes less than 2 minutes.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS): This therapy delivers a high dose of radiation during a small number of treatments. We use SRS to target tumors in sensitive areas of the body like the brain and spinal cord. We deliver the radiation with millimeter precision to spare the rest of the brain or spinal cord from high-dose radiation. Sometimes, only a single treatment may be necessary. Occasionally, if the tumor is large, we may need additional treatments to decrease side effects, a process called fractionated stereotactic radiotherapy (FSRT).
- Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT): Also called stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), it is similar to SRS except that it is used to treat other sites in the body, including the lungs and liver and sometimes areas like the adrenal gland, pancreas or prostate. You typically need 3 to 8 treatments, depending on the tumor size.
- Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT): This therapy allows us to use unique imaging capabilities during radiation delivery to improve the precision and accuracy of the treatment.
- Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT): Most often used for early breast cancer, this therapy is given at the time of lumpectomy in 1 treatment as compared to 4 to 6 weeks of radiation. We use advanced technology that delivers a concentrated beam of radiation at the time of surgery to the lumpectomy site without exposing other organs to radiation.
Brachytherapy involves placing radioactive seeds near the site of the tumor to destroy the cancer cells:
- High dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy: For this treatment, we briefly insert radiation close to or in the tumor over several sessions. We frequently use HDR brachytherapy, which can be done as an outpatient procedure, in gynecologic cancers. It can also be used in certain prostate cancers, and occasionally in lung or gastrointestinal cancers.
- Low dose-rate (LDR) brachytherapy: This treatment inserts radiation into the tumor or body cavity, with the radiation releasing over several days or weeks. LDR brachytherapy is often used in prostate cancer, gynecologic cancers and ocular melanoma.
What to Expect During Radiation Therapy
Your radiation oncologist will talk with you about the benefits and risks of radiation therapy. We will review your records and do a medical exam to help determine what type of radiation therapy will be most effective for you.
What to expect during radiation therapy:
- Simulation: This process determines the most optimal patient positioning to better pinpoint the exact location of the tumor. To be effective, radiation therapy must be aimed precisely at the same target every time. We plan the therapy to target just the affected area without harming surrounding healthy tissue.
- Preparation for simulation: Simulation takes place in a special room, where you will undergo a computerized tomography (CT) scan. Your care team will help you get into the position you’ll be in during radiation treatment. We may place temporary marks on your skin so we know where to aim the radiation beam.
- Planning software: We use advanced treatment planning software to design your treatment plan. Your radiation oncologist will study all your test results and images to create a personalized radiation treatment plan.
- Treatment: We will discuss with you exactly how long and how frequently you will need radiation therapy sessions. Sessions, also called “fractions,” are typically 30 minutes or less. Your course of therapy may be one treatment or may include multiple treatments over a few weeks. Radiation therapists will deliver your radiation treatments according to your doctor’s personalized treatment plan.
- Weekly appointments: You will meet with your healthcare provider on a weekly basis to evaluate how you are responding to therapy. We will also discuss any symptoms and side effects you’re experiencing, so we can help you manage them.
- Follow-up care: We will discuss your follow-up care so you know what to expect. Our team monitors you closely to ensure your health. You will also have access to all the resources of our unique survivorship program.
Advantages of Radiation Therapy
Thanks to advances in radiation therapy technology, treatment is more precise than ever. Advantages of our radiation technology:
- Quicker and more precise treatments allow us to target the tumor with a high level of accuracy while leaving the healthy tissue unharmed.
- Real-time tracking makes radiation therapy safer than ever. As just one example, patients with a tumor who are undergoing radiation therapy are tracked in real-time. If, while the patient is breathing, the tumor moves out of the defined radiation treatment field, the machine will turn off so as not to harm healthy tissue.
Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy itself is painless. You do not feel the radiation beam. You may experience slight discomfort at having to remain still during the treatment. Over time you will begin to see the effect of the radiation in the treatment area, if being treated for several weeks.
Side effects of the treatment can depend on what area of the body we are treating. We will inform you of potential side effects and help you access supportive medical care, if needed.
Advances in radiation technology have lessened side effects for patients. We can now use the maximum amount of radiation while resulting in minimum side effects.
Innovations in Radiation Oncology
Some of the most important advances in radiation oncology are happening right here at Vanderbilt:
- Total skin irradiation (TSI): This is a treatment used for mycosis fungoides, a type of lymphoma that causes a red, itchy skin rash. The advantage of TSI is that the radiation beam enters the outer layer of skin but not the deeper tissues and organs. This method ensures that it destroys the cancer cells on the skin surface that chemotherapy may not be able to reach, but it does not damage the internal organs.
- Total body irradiation (TBI): This unique radiation treatment is an integral part of bone marrow transplant and stem cell transplant. It helps ensure cancer cells are killed in all areas of the body prior to receiving the transplant from a donor. Learn more about bone marrow transplant.
Radiation Therapy Locations
We offer radiation therapy services at these locations:
Gateway-Vanderbilt Cancer Treatment Center
375 Alfred Thun Road
Clarksville, TN 37040
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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Franklin
2107 Edward Curd Lane
Franklin, TN 37067
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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center
Frances Williams Preston Building
2220 Pierce Ave. S., Room B1003
Nashville, TN 37232
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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center at Maury Regional Spring Hill
1003 Reserve Boulevard
Spring Hill, TN 37174
Radiation Therapy: Suite 120
Medical Oncology: Suite 240
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Comprehensive Post-Treatment Support
Cancer affects all aspects of your life, and it affects you even after treatments are completed. We offer robust support services – including a survivorship program and an integrative care center – to help you during treatment and in your life after treatment.