Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. X-rays, gamma rays and charged particles are types of radiation used for cancer treatment. The radiation may be delivered by a machine outside the body (externa-beam radiation therapy) or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy).

External-beam radiation therapy:

Patients usually receive external-beam radiation therapy in daily treatment sessions over the course of several weeks. The number of treatment sessions depends on many factors, including the total radiation dose that will be given.

One of the most common types of external-beam radiation therapy is called 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT). 3D-CRT uses very sophisticated computer software and advanced treatment machines to deliver radiation to very precisely shaped target areas.

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT):

IMRT uses hundreds of tiny radiation beam-shaping devices, called collimators, to deliver a single dose of radiation. The collimators can be stationary or can move during treatment, allowing the intensity of the radiation beams to change during treatment sessions. This kind of dose modulation allows different areas of a tumor or nearby tissues to receive different doses of radiation. The goal of IMRT is to increase the radiation dose to the areas that need it and reduce radiation exposure to specific sensitive areas of surrounding normal tissue. Compared with 3D-CRT, IMRT can reduce the risk of some side effects, such as damage to the salivary glands (which can cause dry mouth) when the head and neck are treated with radiation therapy.

Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT):

In IGRT, repeated imaging scans (CT, MRI, or PET) are performed during treatment. These imaging scans are processed by computers to identify changes in a tumor’s size and location due to treatment and to allow the position of the patient or the planned radiation dose to be adjusted during treatment as needed. Repeated imaging can increase the accuracy of radiation treatment and may allow reductions in the planned volume of tissue to be treated, thereby decreasing the total radiation dose to normal tissue.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) delivers radiation therapy in fewer sessions, using smaller radiation fields and higher doses than 3D-CRT in most cases.

By definition, SBRT treats tumors that lie outside the brain and spinal cord. Because these tumors are more likely to move with the normal motion of the body, and therefore cannot be targeted as accurately as tumors within the brain or spine, SBRT is usually given in more than one dose. SBRT can be used to treat only small, isolated tumors, including cancers in the lung and liver, adrenal gland, pancreas.

Internal radiation therapy:

is radiation delivered from radiation sources (radioactive materials) placed inside or on the body. Several brachytherapy techniques are used in cancer treatment. It is majorly used in gynecological cancers.