Radiation Oncology

Precise Targeting of Tumors

(radiation therapy) is the use of high-energy X-rays, electrons, or other sources of radiation to treat diseases—often cancer. It has been shown to significantly reduce the recurrence of breast cancer, when used after surgery.

It is also a precise method of treatment, localized to one area of the body.

Scripps Health radiation oncologists have worked to refine procedures that more precisely and effectively target tumor sites, while preserving nearby healthy tissue and organs as much as possible. This is critical in radiation treatments to areas near sensitive tissue.

External and internal methods

Radiation therapy can be administered externally (using machines to direct radiation from the environment into the body) or internally (placing radioactive sources directly into body tissues or cavities, either temporarily or permanently).

Regardless of the radiation’s source, the invisible X-rays damage or kill the rapidly dividing cancer cells so they can’t grow, multiply or spread.

Although radiation therapy is commonly used as the primary technique for the treatment of cancers, it can also be used in combination with other treatment options, including surgery and chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy can also be used palliatively — to help improve quality of life by relieving pain or other symptoms.

Services offered in a multidisciplinary setting

Because each patient’s tumor is unique, and may respond differently to the treatments available, Scripps radiation oncologists offer a wide range of radiation therapy options, including these highly specialized treatments:

Scripps radiation oncologists typically work as part of a concerted, multidisciplinary cancer care team, which may include a medical oncologist, surgeon, oncology nurses and other specialized support staff.

Treatment planning and simulation

A course of radiation therapy treatment typically begins with a treatment planning phase. To be most effective and safe, radiation must be aimed very precisely at the tumor site each time a treatment is given. The tissue target must receive as much of the radiation dose as possible, while healthy tissue nearby should be preserved.

The planning stage involves key steps to map and mobilize the treatment area. The planning or simulation phase may include:

  • Mapping the treatment area using computer-aided imaging techniques such as CT and MRI scans
  • Preparing mobilization devices, such as plastic or mesh molds
  • Placement of special markings, in the case of breast cancer patients, for precise targeting

External beam radiotherapy

“External beam” radiation treatments use machines to direct radiation from an external source into the body. Procedures include:

Internal methods of radiation delivery

Internal methods of radiation therapy involve the placement of radioactive sources — often via small plastic catheters — directly into body tissues or cavities, either temporarily or permanently. These methods include: