What is External Beam Radiation Therapy?

Female doctor talking to male patient.
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It sounds like something dangerous or straight out of a science fiction movie, but external beam radiation therapy is one of the best and most advanced ways to treat prostate cancer.

Dr. Nicole Anderson, a radiation oncologist with Backus Hospital, says external beam radiation is recommended for many patients with prostate cancer, one of the most treatable forms of cancer. Typically, 44 15-minute radiation treatments are given five days a week.

“Treatments are highly localized to the area containing the cancer and patients feel absolutely nothing during each individual treatment session,” Dr. Anderson says.

First, patients undergo a simulation visit so treatments target the exact location of the cancer. These visits include:

  • Having the patient lie on the CT scanner in the exact treatment position.
  • Creating any needed immobilization devices so the patient stays comfortable and still.
  • Placing reference marks or “tattoos” on the patient.
  • Taking “mapping” scans.

“We radiation oncologists work very closely with the medical physicist and dosimetrist to create an optimal plan for each patient to ensure the treatment is delivered in the safest and most effective way possible,” Dr. Anderson says.

Some patients notice mild side effects from radiation treatments, including:

  • Increased need to urinate or sense of urgency.
  • Change in bowel habits.
  • Mild fatigue.

The newest form of RT – Stereotactic Body RT, or SBRT – is currently being tested in an ongoing Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center research trial at Hartford Hospital and The Hospital of Central Connecticut. Dr. Anderson says SBRT shortens the number of sessions needed from 44 to just five for select patients.

“The results of this new treatment are promising but it still remains under investigation,” she says.

For more information about treatment options available through Hartford HealthCare, click here.


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