Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of special x-ray beams to treat tumors. Some tumors respond well to this treatment, while others do not. So it is not the right treatment choice for all types of tumors. Radiation therapy is often used in combination with surgery.

Oncologists work together with radiation oncologists at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis and United Hospital in St. Paul. Together, they determine the exact location of the tumor using CT and MRI scans. Then special X-rays focused from several angles on and around the tumor are used to destroy the remains of a tumor. The X-ray beams can travel deep into tissue, through bone and other structures to reach the tumor. The technology for radiation treatment has changed remarkably in recent years. Because we can better target the precise location of tumors, we are able to limit damage to healthy areas close to the tumor. This means fewer side effects from the treatment, both immediate and long term or later, years after treatment.

Radiation therapy often produces side effects such as temporary hair loss (also called alopecia), nausea and vomiting, headache and fatigue. We will work with you and your child to reduce any side effects experienced from treatment.

Depending on the site of the treatment, long-term side effects also are possible. Physical growth, hormone function and cognitive (learning) function are a few possible areas where problems may occur later after treatment. There also is a risk of second cancers developing in the radiation site.

Our physicians communicate and consult with their colleagues from around the country, ensuring your child receives the care they need, even if it’s not available at Children’s.

Types of radiation available

External Beam Therapy
This form of radiation uses treatment machines called linear accelerators. These machines produce ionizing radiation to destroy cancer cells externally to a defined target area surrounding the tumor.

This treatment applies radiation internally directly on the tumor location. Brachytherapy delivers a higher dose of radiation to help destroy the main mass of tumor cells in a more concentrated fashion.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery
This is a one-time, noninvasive procedure that administers precise, high doses of radiation to cranial abnormalities. Stereotactic radiosurgery uses computer imaging to precisely locate the lesions in three dimensions.

Fractionated Stereotactic Radiosurgery
This treatment method delivers radiation to cranial tumors over a number of days, reducing radiation exposure of nearby structures. The procedure is important for treating lesions near radiosensitive tissues.

Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy
This treatment method delivers radiation to isolated tumors in the body over a shorter course of treatment, reducing radiation exposure to nearby structures. The treatment course is shorter in duration.

3D Conformal Radiation Therapy
This external treatment has the ability to identify in three-dimensions the tumor and surrounding normal tissues and customize the radiation beams.

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy
In this form of external treatment, the radiation beam intensity is altered to ‘paint’ with radiation doses for the desired concentration.

Image Guided Radiation Therapy
This type of imaging occurs prior to daily treatment and matches structures in the body exactly with the CT images that were taken for treatment planning and sets the radiation therapy target at each treatment.

Rapid Arc Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)
Some tumors can be treated with Rapid Arc treatment delivery where IMRT treatment is delivered in single or multiple arc rotations of the machine around the patient.