Types of Radiation Therapy

Our comprehensive radiation oncology center offers the most advanced radiation therapy treatments available. The treatment each patient receives depends not only on cancer type and location, but other factors such as how deep the radiation must travel into the body, the patient's general health and medical history, and other types of cancer treatments that might be needed.

Proton Therapy Appointments

UC San Diego Health now offers proton therapy, one of the most precise forms of radiation treatment.

Call 858-822-6040 to be seen by a UC San Diego Health physician and find out if proton therapy should be considered for you.

Several of our radiation oncology physicians treat patients at Scripps Proton Therapy Center, including:

External Beam Radiation Therapy

This is the most widely used type of radiation therapy, and can be used to treat large areas of the body. External beam radiation uses a special machine to aim a high dose of radiation directly at the cancer cells and a small portion of healthy tissue at the margins of the tumor. The machine circles around the body, sending radiation from many directions to the exact part of your body that needs it. External beam radiation usually involves 15-minute treatments, done once a day, five days a week, for about six to eight weeks. There are several methods of delivering external beam radiation, and we use image guidance to ensure that your treatment is delivered accurately.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

The Varian Triology technology uses advanced computerized optimization programs to generate treatment plans that highly conform the radiation dose to the shape of the tumor, sparing nearby tissue.

  • Sparing normal tissues greatly reduces the risk of side effects and improves the patient’s quality of life.
  • IMRT has been shown to be beneficial for many cancers, including prostate, head and neck, brain and gynecologic tumors.

Image-Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT)

IGRT involves using X-ray or CAT scan technology to precisely locate the exact position and edges of a tumor immediately before radiation treatment. This greatly improving the accuracy of each treatment and allows us to avoid normal tissue.

Our Varian Trilogy technology allows for sub-millimeter precision, which has revolutionized our capacity to compensate for changes in the patient’s position and tumor during the course of the treatment.

Volumetric-Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT)

Varian Trilogy RapidArc radiotherapy technology is a new approach to delivering IMRT. Image guidance improves tumor targeting, and IMRT shapes the radiation dose so that it conforms closely to the 3-D shape of the tumor. That means more dose to the tumor, and less to surrounding healthy tissues.

  • With RapidArc technology, IMRT treatments that typically required at least 10 minutes can be completed in less than two minutes.
  • Almost any tumor that would normally be treated with radiation therapy can be treated with RapidArc.

Brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy)

Brachytherapy involves radioactive material that is implanted inside the body at the tumor site. Radiation implants are small "seeds" or "pellets" filled with different types of radioactive material. Sometimes this type of treatment is called "seed implants." These seeds, which are about the size of a grain of rice, are inserted through thin needles and emit radiation to kill the cancer cells without harming nearby normal tissue. Brachytherapy is usually done on an outpatient basis, without a hospital stay.

We have one of the busiest and most diverse brachytherapy programs in the country, providing services including:

  • High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy, used for a wide range of cancers, including breast, gynecologic, and prostate cancers, as well as sarcomas and select head and neck cancers, lung cancers and gastrointestinal malignancies
  • Low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy with permanent radioactive seed implants for prostate cancer
  • Electronic brachytherapy with Xoft for non-melanoma skin cancers, most commonly basal cell and squamous cell cancers

Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) and Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT)

SRS/SBRT can deliver doses of radiation to very small tumors. SRS is most commonly used to treat brain or spinal tumors, or cancer that has metastasized to the brain from other areas. SBRT treats tumors that lie outside the brain and spinal cord.

The Varian Triology SRS system, unlike older radiosurgery tools such as the CyberKnife, does not require the use of a headframe attached to the skull to immobilize the treatment area, making treatments much more comfortable. It delivers high doses of radiation to tumors in the brain, lung, liver and other sites with exacting precision. It can be used for a single visit or limited number of sessions, and can deliver treatment is less than 30 minutes. UC San Diego Health physicians have more experience with this novel technology than anyone in the San Diego community.

Proton Therapy

Proton therapy is one of the most precise forms of radiation treatment. Using controlled proton beams, the therapy can target tumors with unprecedented accuracy, sparing healthy surrounding tissue and reducing treatment side effects. Because it is so precise, radiation specialists can use more potent doses (to more effectively destroy cancer cells). Patients typically experience fewer side effects and complications from proton therapy compared to surgery, chemotherapy and conventional radiation therapy treatments.

Proton therapy is particularly well suited for patients requiring high doses of radiation, as well as young adults and pediatric patients, who are highly sensitive and more susceptible to the health risks associated with radiation exposure.

We use the Varian ProBeam proton therapy system, which offers pencil-beam scanning technology. We treat patients with many types of cancers, including breast, prostate, brain, respiratory, digestive, head and neck, and soft tissue cancers.

We offer proton therapy at the Scripps Proton Therapy Center as an affiliate provider. Call 858-822-6040 to be seen by a UC San Diego Health physician and find out if proton therapy should be considered for you.


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