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  • Radiation Oncology

    Radiation oncology is the area of medicine that studies and treats patients using radiation therapy.

    Radiation therapy traditionally involves beaming ionizing radiation directly into the affected area of the body. The ionizing radiation helps to control and destroy malignant cancer cells. Radiation therapy is mainly used as a treatment for cancer, although it can also be used to treat other ailments.

    Doctors try to avoid this when possible, since radiation therapy causes damage to healthy cells and can itself cause cancer.

    In recent years radiation oncology has seen new and improved ways of exposing cancer cells to radiation while causing less damage to healthy tissues. One of these ways is to insert the radiation directly into the body next to the cancer, rather than using beams. This type of radiation treatment is known as brachytherapy or sealed source radiation. This prevents healthy tissues from being damaged as the beams pass through them on the way to the tumor.

    Another technique used in radiation oncology is unsealed source radiation. This involves soluble substances being either injected into the body or ingested by the patient.

    Radiation Oncologists are doctors who specialize in treating patients using radiation therapy. Radiation oncology is a very competitive field. In the United States there is a four-year residency program after which the person must be certified by the American Board of Radiology (ABR) or the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS). Radiation oncologists must be recertified periodically and take continuing education courses. These certification requirements vary in other countries.

    (browse the directory to find a local oncologist)

    Radiation oncology is often used in conjunction with other types of treatments. For cancer this can include chemotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy.

    Depending on the patient’s cancer, radiation therapy might be used in an attempt to cure the cancer, relieve symptoms, or simply keep the patient comfortable if no cure is possible.

    Radiation oncologists are usually part of what is known as an oncology team. The oncology team is made up of a variety of specialists, including nurses and other medical professionals, as well as social workers and psychologists. Treatment plans are based on many factors including the type, location, and stage of the patient’s cancer, as well as their overall health and medical history.

    Cancer can have many different reactions to radiation therapy. Some types of cancer cells are killed with very low doses of radiation, while others require large doses to have any effect at all. As an example large tumors require lower doses of radiation than smaller tumors. In addition, some cancers are very resistant to radiation therapy. With ongoing clinical trials and research, the field of radiation oncology is constantly changing and improving. Radiation oncologists are always working to improve treatment options for their patients.