Since its inception at the start of the 20th century, radiation therapy has been recognized as an essential element of an effective cancer care program and has become one of the most common forms of treatment for many types of cancer. Approximately fifty percent of cancer patients receive it either alone or in combination with other treatments with remarkable results.
Radiation oncologists from NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital’s cancer center, Lawrence Koutcher, M.D., and Leah Katz, M.D., MPH, both published experts and researchers on this subject, discuss this type of therapy and how it has raised the bar for more successful patient outcomes.
Dr. Koutcher is the Regional Director of clinical operations at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley and Lawrence Hospitals, and an assistant professor of radiation oncology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Dr. Katz is an assistant professor of radiation oncology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center and a radiation oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley.
Q: What is radiation therapy?
A: Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is the use of various forms of radiant waves of energy to safely and effectively treat cancer and other diseases. It can be used to cure cancer, control its growth or relieve painful symptoms. Radiation therapy works by damaging cells; normal cells are able to repair themselves, whereas cancer cells cannot.
Q: How is it different from other forms of cancer treatment?
A: Radiation therapy complements the other major forms of cancer therapy such as chemotherapy and surgery. It is similar to surgery, since both target the tumor, but radiation therapy does not require an incision, operation, or anesthesia. It’s also similar to drug therapy in that it usually requires multiple sessions as an outpatient to obtain a desired dose. The difference is that radiation therapy does not travel throughout the body.
Q: When is radiation therapy used?
A: Most times, it is given with a curative intent in order to eliminate the tumor and prevent recurrence postoperatively, but sometimes it is also given palliatively to reduce the suffering caused by the cancer symptoms.
Q: What are some of the latest advances in radiation therapy?
A: Recent advances in technology have made the dosage and delivery of radiation to treat localized cancers much more precise. New techniques enable doctors to provide treatment in fewer days for certain types of cancer, better target the radiation to protect healthy cells, improve effectiveness, and decrease complications. Radiation therapy is an extremely potent enhancer of the body’s immune response toward killing cancer cells. When used in tandem with other therapies like immunotherapy which also enhances the immune response, these new combinations of therapies can dramatically shrink some cancers in a way that older therapies were unable to do.
Q: What are the newest programs and types of radiation therapy?
A: Different types of radiation therapy work in different ways to treat various types of cancer. The most common form of therapy, LINAC (linear accelerator) based radiation therapy, is used to treat the majority of cancer patients. This works by customizing high energy x-rays to conform to a tumor’s shape and destroy cancer cells while sparing surrounding normal tissue. Other types of therapy include stereotactic body radiation therapy for inoperable lung cancer, stereotactic radiosurgery for brain metastases, and Radium-223 (Xofigo) injections for select patients with metastatic prostate cancer. In recent years, many patients undergoing radiation therapy are having a hydrogel spacer inserted to push the rectum further away from the prostate thereby decreasing side effects.
Q: Where do you think radiation therapy is going in the future?
A: Each day, research is finding better, more effective ways to treat cancer such as the use of IMRT therapy that uses high-edged software and sophisticated hardware to vary the intensity and shape of radiation, as well as IGRT which uses imaging with the therapy to improve precision and treatment accuracy. One of the most advanced treatments is the stereotactic body radiation therapy program for men with prostate cancer, which allows patients to complete their course of radiation in only five treatments as opposed to five to nine weeks.
NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital’s cancer center is fully accredited with Commendation by the Commission on Cancer. Board-certified Columbia surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists – along with oncology nurses and patient navigators – care for patients with most types of cancer, including brain, head and neck, breast, lung, gastrointestinal, gynecologic, prostate, and blood cancers. In addition to cancer surgery, a comforting onside infusion center, and precision radiation therapy, the hospital offers genetic counseling, nutritional guidance, and survivorship services.
For more information on cancer treatment, visit nyp.org/hudsonvalley/cancer. To make an appointment, please call 914-293-8400.