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How does cancer radiation therapy work?

We are exposed to radiation every day from sources like the soil, airplane travel, cell phones and televisions, but radiation – a spectrum of energy – can also be used to treat cancer.

Radiation is used in two different ways to treat cancer, explains Kim Vu Neisler, M.D., a radiation oncologist at Piedmont:

  • Curative treatment: To cure the cancer
  • Palliative care: To manage pain and other cancer symptoms

How therapeutic radiation works

“Therapeutic radiation, when it’s exposed to a targeted area in the body, will cause damage to the DNA on a cellular level,” explains Dr. Neisler. “That DNA damage translates to cell death. That is how radiation is effective for cancer treatment.”

Radiation can damage both cancer cells and normal, healthy tissue in the area surrounding the cancer site. The good news is normal tissue can repair DNA damage much more effectively than cancer cells can.

“Over time, normal tissues are able to survive the radiation treatments and cancer cells – preferentially – will die,” she says.

Personalizing radiation treatment

Radiation treatment is highly tailored to each patient based on his or her age, the cancer’s stage, the location of the cancer, and the type of normal tissue near the cancer site.

There are different forms of radiation treatment, including:

“Radiation is one of the tools we use to cure cancer, and some cancers are much more effectively cured than other cancers,” explains Dr. Neisler. “We’re always looking for a cure, but right now, these are the best tools we have to treat our cancer patients.”

Piedmont offers the most advanced radiation techniques, including:

  • Fractionated Stereotactic Radiosurgery
  • Fractionated Stereotactic Radiotherapy
  • VMAT – Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy (RapidArc™)
  • IMRT- Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy 
  • IGRT – Image Guided Radiation Therapy

To learn more about cancer treatment at Piedmont, visit Piedmont Cancer Center

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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