How Does Radiation Therapy Work?

If you've considered becoming a radiation therapist or are interested in a career that involves treating cancer patients, you may have asked the question, what is radiation therapy? How does radiation therapy work? Skilled and highly-trained radiation therapists are in high demand by hospitals, clinics, cancer centers and other healthcare organizations that offer radiation-based treatment. Radiation therapy is used primarily to treat cancer and is prescribed by an oncologist or doctor to reduce the size of a tumor. Learning about how radiation therapy works and what the definition of this type of treatment is, can help you decide if training in the field of radiation therapy is right for you.

What Exactly is Radiation Therapy?

Many people interested in the field of medical technology or cancer treatment wonder, what is radiation therapy? How exactly does radiation therapy work? Radiation therapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses very high beams of energy to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy has been proven to be effective for killing off cancer cells and also in preventing them from growing and dividing. This type of treatment is often used in conjunction with chemotherapy and surgery to treat cancer.

Radiation therapy machines and equipment are designed with advanced technology. Doctors who specialize in radiation therapy have to create a customized treatment plan that will deliver the optimum dose of radiation without harming other tissues and affecting the health of the patient. Naturally, this isn't always possible so the doctor works with a radiation oncologist to develop a treatment plan that will help to reduce the size of the tumor with as minimal impact on the patient as possible.

How Does Radiation Therapy Work?

Radiation therapy is typically administered in very small doses every day for a period of several weeks. It can include both external radiation and internal radiation therapy techniques. Regardless of the technique used, the treatment machine does not touch the patient and the patient doesn't feel anything during the treatment process.

Some of the different types of radiation therapy and systems used in hospitals, cancer treatment centers and medical clinics around the United States include:

  • Intracavitary Brachytherapy
  • Interstitial Brachytherapy
  • Calypso 4D Localization system
  • Image Guided Radiation Therapy
  • Stereotactic Radiosurgery

Before the radiation therapy treatment plan can begin, the radiation therapist and radiation oncologist work together to map out all of the details of the patient's therapy. This process is called a "simulation" and is performed in a room with special X-ray equipment or a CT scanner to simulate the action of the actual treatment that would take place with a patient. The radiation therapist goes through all of the steps of the simulation to uses various types of equipment to ensure the alignment is correct. The patient's body is measured and recorded, and the radiation beams are directed into several different directions to optimize the treatment plan. Most simulation treatments take between 30 to 60 minutes, and give the therapist a chance to calculate exactly where to position each piece of equipment, and how to calibrate the machines specific to each patient.

Once all of this information has been recorded, the treatment can be performed in exactly the same way over the course of several weeks.