Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy

During the course of their treatment, approximately one-half of all cancer patients will be treated with radiation. High-energy radiation destroys cancer cells’ ability to reproduce. Some cancer treatments involve only radiation therapy (for example, prostate cancer and cancer of the larynx), while others include radiation as a partial treatment (such as radiation therapy after breast-conserving surgery). In some cases, radiation and/or chemotherapy are used before surgery, which ideally requires a less radical surgical procedure.

A radiation oncologist (a cancer doctor who has specialized in radiation therapy) may use radiation generated by a machine (external beam radiation therapy). Another option is putting radioactive "seeds" inside your body (brachytherapy). Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) combines traditional radiation therapy with a simultaneous CT scan to allow physicians great precision and accuracy when targeting and treating cancer. Tumors constantly move within the body, making precise targeting difficult with traditional CT scans. IGRT gives us a CT image of the target tumor just prior to each radiation treatment, which allows us to adjust the radiation beam to destroy the tumor but not the surrounding healthy tissue. Healthy tissue can be easily damaged if radiation is not delivered with a high degree of accuracy.


The Cancer Center offers brachytherapy as a treatment option for some prostate, lung, and cervical cancer patients. During the prostate procedure, tiny radioactive “seeds” are implanted directly into the prostate and deliver a highly concentrated dose of radiation to the cancerous area. Surrounding healthy tissues are thus spared radiation exposure. The high dose rate afterloader (HDR) is used to treat lung and cervical cancer.

To learn more about brachytherapy, visit Radiology Info.

Image-Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT)

Radiation Therapy Team

Image-guided radiation therapy combines traditional radiation therapy with a simultaneous CT scan to allow physicians to target cancerous tumors with greater precision and accuracy. This is critical to optimize the treatment as well as to preserve healthy tissue.

Traditionally, three-dimensional CT scans of a patient’s anatomy are generated prior to radiation treatments, and the same scan is used during the course of the patient’s therapy. However, with this method, administering precise radiation doses can be difficult due to the tendency of tumors to move constantly within the body. Therefore, the tumor may be in a slightly different position during each treatment, which is not optimal.

IGRT provides a solution to that problem with the On Board Imager (OBI), which verifies the daily treatment position by giving physicians a CT image of the target tumor just prior to each radiation treatment. This allows physicians to adjust the radiation beam as needed to accurately destroy the tumor, not the surrounding healthy tissue that can be damaged if radiation is not delivered with a high degree of accuracy and precision

To learn more about IGRT, visit Radiology Info.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is one of the most innovative tools available to radiation oncologists today.

IMRT allows our physicians to “sculpt” radiation to the contours of a tumor, which spares the surrounding healthy tissue. This added precision and accuracy means fewer side effects and a higher cure rate.

To learn more about IMRT, visit Radiology Info.

Frequently Asked Questions About Radiation Therapy

The radiation therapist will contact you and set up your initial appointment. This appointment is for a computerized tomography simulation which identifies the exact position you will maintain for your treatment. After the simulation results are reviewed by your physician and dosimetrist, the therapist will again contact you to set up your first radiation treatment.
Generally, once a person begins treatment they maintain their treatment time. If you have a preference for a different treatment time, the therapist will offer you a slot as they become available.
Treatments are delivered daily, Monday thru Friday. Each treatment is generally completed in 15 - 30 minutes.
Call your team of radiation therapists at 334.528.2674. The therapists will notify the physician.
Length of treatment varies by individual. However, most individuals have from 25 to 35 treatments
Radiation therapy is most effective when given consecutively and consistently. Vacations should be taken before treatment begins or after the course of treatment ends. Individuals should make every effort to not miss treatments.
Your physician will determine if a missed appointment needs to be rescheduled. Generally, a missed appointment is added to the end of the treatment course.
Your radiation oncologist will manage your treatments and any side effects associated with your radiation treatment. You must continue to see your primary care physician for your routine medications.
Side effects will vary based on your treatment area. Your physician will review these side effects prior to beginning treatment. The radiation oncology nurse will meet with you and your family to review how to manage those side effects.
Advanced technology such as IMRT and IGRT delivers precision dosing thus minimizing damage to healthy tissue. Because radiation must pass thru the skin to destroy targeted cancer cells, individuals can expect skin changes in the treatment area.
No. Radiation delivered externally does not cause a person to be radioactive. There is no need to limit your visits to others.
Radiation therapy does not lead to general hair loss. An individual may experience hair loss in the area of their treatment.
If you are able to drive and have not been told to stop driving, then you may continue to drive yourself. If your condition changes, and you are taking narcotics, then you may not be able to drive. Ask your physician about this.
The answer to this question depends on how you are feeling, the type of treatment you are receiving and your type of work. Although it may be necessary for some cancer patients to take a leave of absence from work, many continue working throughout their treatment and recovery. Ask your doctor about what you can expect. Just remember, each patient handles and responds to treatment and recovery differently. It is also important to openly communicate your needs with your employer so that he/she may plan in case you need to decrease your hours, schedule an absence or have increased flexibility.
Call your primary care physician with issues, questions or concerns unrelated to your radiation therapy or cancer diagnosis.

Frequently Asked Questions About Skin Care

Do not wash the marks off or use soaps, creams, lotions, perfumes or deodorants in the area of the marks.
  • When taking a shower, let the water run gently over the marks.
  • Use only lukewarm water for bathing the treated area.
  • Do NOT use any soap in the area of the marks.
  • Do not rub or scrub the treated skin.
  • Pat marked area dry with a towel.
  • If marks are fading or coming off, notify your therapist at your next appointment.