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FAQ: Image-Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT)

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What Is IGRT?

Image-guided radiation therapy, or IGRT, is a type of cancer treatment that combines the use of visual imaging with high-energy X-ray to destroy tumors.  There are several technologies involved, but all of them utilize detailed images of cancerous growths and the surrounding tissues taken before and sometimes during the procedure.  This allows the medical team to more precisely deliver the radiation dosage and to locate tumors.  Patients receiving this treatment undergo a simulation beforehand; this is a practice run for the actual procedure in which the areas of the body to be dosed are carefully mapped out. 

Why Is IGRT Used to Treat Cancer?

Image-guided radiation therapy offers several advantages in treating cancer:

  • Physicians have a clearer picture of the size, location, and extent of the mass
  • Radiation dosages are more accurately delivered
  • Less damage is inflicted on healthy, surrounding tissues
  • Cancer is more effectively controlled because higher dosages are utilized to the specific regions
  • Treatment is possible for cancers sitting near sensitive organs or tissues

IGRT also enables better tracking of tumors that move, based on organ function or tissue structure. Examples include cancers of the lungs, prostate, pancreas, and liver.

What Can I Expect During IGRT?

An image-guided radiation procedure typically follows these steps:

 

Simulation

The first step in a radiation procedure is called a simulation, in which your medical team will prepare you for the actual procedure at a later date.  Simulations increase the effectiveness of cancer treatment by pinpointing the exact location for delivering the radiation dosage. 

On the day of your appointment, you will come to the clinic where the simulation will be scheduled to take place.  You will change into a hospital gown and go to a room with a table and medical-imaging equipment.  There you will undergo a variety of scans all with the purpose of locating the tumor or tumors and determining the best approaches for dosing.  Your medical team may position you using customized cushions, molds, or devices, to obtain the best possible positioning for treatment and best views for the scanners.  At the end of the procedure, your body will be marked to indicate the target points for radiation treatment.

Medical-imaging technologies, such as X-rays or CT scans, are utilized during a simulation.  You will be able to schedule the first of your radiation treatments when the simulation is completed. 

Treatment

Treatment is similar to simulation but typically shorter in duration, because your medical team will already have a plan in place.  You will return to the clinic and a member of your medical team will position you, according to the findings of the simulation.  The actual dosing typically takes only a few minutes.  Your radiologist will monitor you throughout this period, using the imaging equipment to fine-tune delivery, based on any changes in the location of the tumor.  The actual procedure is painless. 

Depending on the type and extent of your cancer, you may return to the facility to receive additional treatments.  Your medical team will keep these trips to a minimum by precisely targeting maximally effective doses of radiation.  This is a major advantage of using image-guided radiation therapy, and one reason why it’s more effective than other methods. 

Follow-up

Both during and following radiation therapy, you will have regularly scheduled follow-up appointments.  These will help ensure that your treatments are effective, as well as address any side effects that you may experience from radiation. 

What Are the Side Effects?

IGRT can result in both short- and long-term side effects.  Short-term effects may begin during treatment and may increase through the course of treatment.  These effects typically improve in the few weeks following completing of treatment.

They include:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Irritated, itchy, or swollen skin
  • Hair loss in the treated area
  • Additional side effects vary, depending on what part of the body is being treated
  • Common side effects of prostate (pelvic) radiation include bowel and urinary irritation (cramps, diarrhea, more frequent urination, slower urination, discomfort).  

Long-term side effects are less common but more serious. They become apparent months or sometimes years after treatment.  These effects vary, depending on what part of the body is being treated.  Modern, highly precise technology has greatly reduced these risks.  Potential long-term effects of prostate (pelvic) radiation can include:

  • Infertility
  • Lymphedema
  • Secondary cancers
  • Damage to bowel or bladder
  • Erectile dysfunction

Radiation therapy can also lead to changes in the size, shape, or functional effectiveness of targeted organs or structures.  For example, radiation for brain tumors has been linked to the development of cataracts, hearing loss, and memory loss, some of which may be permanent.

 

At KCUC, we specialize in providing supportive care — knowledgeable, accurate, friendly and courteous.  We offer state-of-the-art treatments in a modern facility, so you can get in and out quickly, but in a setting, that’s relaxing and less stressful than a hospital.  We also have some of the top Kansas City urologists and oncologists to help support you with multiple locations in Kansas and Missouri.