Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy and/or surgery. O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center patients have access to the latest and most innovative medical treatments and technologies, including radiation therapies that are image-guided to precisely target tumors while sparing healthy tissue.

UAB Medicine’s Radiation Oncology team is staffed by world-renowned physicians and clinicians, who provide compassionate care and support you through every stage of treatment. As part of the National Cancer Institute-designated O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, radiation oncologists work as a team with other cancer specialists to develop comprehensive and individualized treatment plans for each of our patients.

There are many kinds of radiation therapies and the type used depends on the patient’s medical history, the type of cancer, location and size of the cancer cells or tumor, in addition to other factors. Some types include:

3-D Conformal Radiation Therapy (3-D CRT)

This therapy uses scans to create a three-dimensional, very detailed look at the size, shape and location of the cancer cells/tumor. Radiation is then targeted to this area to treat the tumor while preserving the healthy tissue around the tumor.


While other radiation therapies at UAB are delivered externally, brachytherapy treatment allows us to treat internally. Brachytherapy is the delivery of radiation from within the body, by using seeds, ribbons, or capsules that contain radiation sources placed at the site of the cancer cells. It is most commonly used in the treatment of cervical, prostate, and sarcoma cancers.

Image-Guided Radiotherapy (IGRT)

This cancer treatment uses different imaging technologies to be able to see the location and size of the tumor before or while radiation is delivered to the cancer cells.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

This is a type of external radiation treatment that can fine-tune the radiation for certain types of cancers. It has distinct advantages compared to other forms of treatment. Its computer-calculated modulation of radiation produces a greater dose of radiation to the tumor with less radiation to normal tissue.

Radioisotope Therapy

Radioisotope therapy is a procedure in which a liquid form of radiation is administered internally through infusion or injection. RIT’s ultimate purpose is to treat cancerous cells with minimal damage to the normal surrounding tissue. These therapies are not normally the first approach used to fight a patient’s cancer. Instead, they are more likely to be used after other therapies. Initial radioisotope therapy is relatively brief, as many forms of the therapy are administered via a series of injections or single infusions. These injections or infusions can often be followed by a short period of radiation application, normally around one week. While the amount of radiation in a patient’s body following radioisotope therapy will be higher than normal, those levels will recede with time, usually no more than a few days. The most common side effect from radioisotope therapy is a feeling of tiredness for a few weeks. Radioisotope therapy can treat a wide variety of cancers, including bone metastases, brain cancer, thyroid cancer, bile duct cancer, liver cancer, and neuroblastoma. Radioisotope therapy can also be useful as an adjuvant, or assisting, therapy when combined with other forms of cancer therapy.

Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT)

SBRT is a radiosurgery technique that uses a high dose of radiation shaped to the patient’s tumor. This technique delivers radiation to the intended target while avoiding healthy tissue. Instead of receiving traditional radiation therapy for several weeks, patients receive only one to five radiation treatments. This type of therapy often results in fewer side effects for the patient, takes only a few minutes, and allows for more comfortable positioning, which makes it more likely to have accurate and precise delivery of the treatment. SBRT is most often used for lung cancer, though other sites like the spine and liver can also be treated using SBRT.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS using HyperArcTM)

SRS is a single or up to five radiation treatments generally to tumors limited to a specific area or tumors in the brain. Historically, this technique required placement of a metal frame attached to the head and a procedure that lasted hours. UAB offers frameless radiosurgery using the HyperArcTM treatment planning tool for more precise and effective treatment. HyperArcTM treatments are painless and can simultaneously treat many tumors in a few minutes. This is one of many innovations pioneered at UAB and setting the standard for hospitals worldwide.

Adaptive Radiation Therapy (EthosTM)

The latest treatment delivery system at UAB is the Varian Ethos linear accelerator. This device allows physicians to recalculate the patient’s radiation plan based upon daily changes of the tumor or normal tissue near the tumor. Adaptive radiation therapy is a more accurate treatment with less margin for error. UAB is participating in several clinical trials of this technology.

Total Body Irradiation (TBI)

TBI is an external beam radiotherapy that is often used to prepare the body for bone marrow transplantation. TBI involves radiating most of the body up to two times per day for two to four days. It suppresses the bone marrow recipient’s immune system, in turn reducing the risk of rejection and increasing the likelihood that the transplant will be successful. Total body irradiation can be used in a wide variety of medical treatments, including the treatment of neuroblastoma, Hodgkin disease, and preparation for bone marrow transplantation.

Total Skin Irradiation (TSI)

Total Skin Irradiation (TSI) is an external beam radiotherapy. This treatment therapy uses electrons directed at the entire surface of the body. The radiation goes into the outer layers of the skin but does not go deeper into tissues or to organs below the skin. If the cancer is detected early, this therapy can result in the disappearance of any signs or symptoms of the disease. Total skin irradiation can be used in the treatment of a wide variety of cancers, such as skin lymphomas.

Volumetric-Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT aka RapidArc™)

This type of external radiation treatment is like IMRT, in that it can precisely target radiation for certain types of cancers. One primary difference is that, as the machine rotates around the patient, radiation is delivered more quickly and continuously. VMAT is sometimes referred to as RapidArc™.

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