Radiation Oncology

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Clinical Care

Radiation therapy, also known as x-ray therapy, is a form of electromagnetic energy that can cause changes in human tissue. Because the energy used in treatment travels at the speed of light and cannot be detected by the senses, there is no sensation produced during radiation treatment—no pain, cold, heat or stinging. As a treatment, radiation is used in combination with chemotherapy or by itself to shrink or destroy individual cancer cells. It may be used prior to, during or after surgery. Radiation can also reduce pain, bleeding, pressure or other symptoms caused by cancer.

Patients seeking the most advanced treatment options for their cancer have the option to be treated at one of six central Indiana locations that IU School of Medicine Department of Radiation Oncology faculty treat patients. Treatment teams include nurses, dosimetrists, physicists, radiation therapists and radiation oncologists, ensuring that each patient benefits from the expertise needed to design a personal treatment plan using various forms of radiation.

Radiation Oncologists and investigators conduct leading-edge bench and clinical research and collaborate with clinicians, scientists and other physicians within the IU School of Medicine network, enabling them to develop innovative treatment options and apply the latest technology and new techniques for treating cancer.

Department Subspecialties

Radiation therapy is provided with and without concurrent chemotherapy for breast, sarcomas, lung, spine, liver, esophageal and other thoracic cancers. Radiation is also used for multidisciplinary cancer care for all malignancies, combined radiation and immunotherapy.

The Radiation Oncology team at IU School of Medicine offers brachytherapy for genitourinary and gynecological malignancies as well as prostate brachytherapy High-Dose-Rate brachytherapy for prostate cancer and gynecological malignancies, intensity modulated radiotherapy, image-guided radiotherapy, sterotactic radiotherapy, and intraoperative radiotherapy.

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) uses multiple convergent gamma rays or X-rays to precisely deliver a single high dose of radiation to the brain tumor with minimal exposure to the healthy surrounding tissue. SRS is suitable for patients with limited cranial tumors and can be performed alone as initial therapy, as an adjuvant to surgical resection, or as a boost to whole brain radiotherapy. SRS can also be useful when surgery isn’t possible and serve as adjuvant therapy to increase effectiveness of immunotherapy medications.

Prior to the introduction of stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), traditional radiation courses typically spanned from five to eight weeks. SBRT delivers a higher dose per day in as little as three to five treatments, offering more potent tumor control and a welcomed convenience to patients. However, the higher dose is also more likely to cause complications to surrounding normal tissues. The solution is to treat as small an area as possible, as precisely as possible. Exact mapping and immobilization are especially critical in lung and liver cancers due to respiratory motion. Just in the last decade, advanced imaging and immobilization techniques have refined SBRT to the point of generating very little irradiation to normal tissue, enabling much smaller margins, ranging from <5 mm to <1 cm.

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is very precise and allows higher doses of radiation to be aimed directly at the tumor, while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. With IMRT, the radiation beam can be broken down into grids as small as 3 x 3 mm in resolution, with each grid carrying a different intensity of radiation. That, along with state-of-the-art imaging techniques, allows the dose to be shaped in ways not possible with non-IMRT treatments.