Overview

The Providence Radiation Oncology Program offers a comprehensive approach to cancer care with a wide range of world-class cancer therapy modalities implemented by a multidisciplinary team of experts. Our extraordinary team, coupled with state-of-the-art technology, creates the environment for superior treatment outcomes for cancer patients. Our physicians and staff are dedicated to delivering compassionate care for our patients while offering support to their families; patient-centered care is our philosophy.

Radiation therapy, sometimes called radiotherapy, is the use of various forms of high energy x-rays (radiation) to safely and effectively pinpoint and destroy cancer and other diseases. More than half of all cancer patients will undergo radiation therapy. For some, it will be the only cancer treatment they need. In many cases, the cancer will need to be treated by using more than one type of treatment. For example, a patient might have a surgery to remove a tumor (by a surgeon), then have radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells in or near the tumor site. Patients also may receive chemotherapy (from a medical oncologist) to destroy cancer cells that have traveled to other parts of the body. Radiation therapy is considered to be a “local” therapy, meaning it treats a specific localized area of the body.

Before patients receive radiation therapy, the radiation oncologist, physicist, and dosimetrists work together using sophisticated computer software to calculate the best treatment for each patient’s body and tumor. This treatment planning ensures that the tumor site receives the maximum amount of radiation while minimizing exposure to healthy tissue and organs.

There are two types of radiation therapy: external radiation therapy, where a beam of radiation is directed from outside the body, and internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy or implant therapy, where a source of radioactivity is placed inside the body near the tumor.

External beam radiation therapy treatment, also called x-ray therapy, is directed at the tumor from a machine located away from your body, usually a linear accelerator. External beam is a painless, non-invasive process and can be given once or twice per day, depending on the treatment protocol being used.  Treatments are usually scheduled as a series of outpatient treatments, five days a week from one to ten weeks. The number of radiation treatments depends on the size, location and type of cancer; the intent of the treatment; a patient’s general health; and other medical treatments the patient may be receiving. Patients are given a break from treatment on weekend days to give normal cells some time to heal, thus reducing side effects. A patient receiving external beam radiation therapy is not radioactive or dangerous to the people around him or her.

Internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy, involves placing radioactive material in, or just next to, a tumor. The radioactive sources used in brachytherapy, such as thin wires, ribbons, seeds or capsules, come in small sealed containers. These sources may be implanted permanently or temporarily, depending upon your cancer. A permanent implant, such as for prostate seed implants, remains in the body after the sources are no longer radioactive. Other radioactive sources are placed temporarily inside the body, such as the cervix, and are removed after the right amount of radiation has been delivered. 

There are two types of brachytherapy – intracavitary treatment and interstitial treatment. With intracavitary treatment, the radioactive sources are put into a space near where the tumor is located, such as the cervix, the vagina, or the esophagus. With interstitial treatment, the radioactive sources are put directly into the tissues, such as the prostate.

These procedures may require anesthesia, a surgical procedure and a brief stay in the hospital. Patients with permanent implants may have a few restrictions at first and then can quickly return to their normal activities. Temporary implants are left inside your body for minutes, hours or days. While the radioactive sources are in place, you will stay in a private room. During the time when radiation is present in your system, doctors, nurses and other medical staff will continue to take care of you, but they will take special precautions to limit their exposure to radiation.