Cancer cells multiply faster than normal cells in the body. Because radiation is most harmful to quickly growing cells, radiation therapy damages cancer cells more than normal cells. This prevents the cancer cells from growing and dividing, and leads to cell death.

Radiation therapy is used to fight many types of cancer. Sometimes, radiation is the only treatment needed. It may also be used to:

  • Shrink a tumor as much as possible before surgery
  • Help prevent the cancer from coming back after surgery or chemotherapy
  • Relieve symptoms caused by a tumor
  • Treat cancers that cannot be removed with surgery

Wake Forest Baptist Health - Radiation Oncology

Learn more about Wake Forest Baptist's program for Radiation Oncology and the various locations where you can receive care.

Types of Radiation Therapy

External beam radiation is the most common form. This method carefully aims high-powered x-rays or particles directly at the tumor from outside of the body. Newer methods provide more effective treatment with less tissue damage. These include:

Internal beam radiation is placed inside your body.

  • One method uses radioactive seeds that are placed directly into or near the tumor. This method is called brachytherapy, and is used to treat prostate cancer. It is used less often to treat breast, cervical, lung, and other cancers.
  • Another method involves receiving radiation by drinking it, swallowing a pill, or through an IV. Liquid radiation travels throughout your body, seeking out and killing cancer cells. Thyroid cancer may be treated this way.

Gamma knife radiosurgery is a noninvasive procedure for brain tumors and other brain disorders. It uses precise beams of radiation to kill or shrink brain tumors. Gamma Knife radiosurgery is preferred by neurosurgeons all over the world to use instead of or in addition to traditional brain tumor treatments. It’s known for its high success rate. It stops the growth of tumors nearly 90 percent of the time.

Gamma Knife surgery is typically half the cost of traditional neurosurgery, partly because it is an outpatient procedure. With no incision, there’s no general anesthesia and no risk of bleeding or infection. 

SBRT (stereotactic body radiation therapy) is a radiation treatment that offers highly-accurate targeting of tumors and lesions virtually anywhere in the body. Typically requiring only 1 - 5 treatments, it achieves excellent results in fewer treatments than required by standard radiotherapy. That means more convenience for our patients and a faster return to daily activities with no discomfort and no hospital stay.

VMAT (Volumetric-Modulated Arc Therapy) is a novel radiation technique, which can achieve highly conformal dose distributions with improved target volume coverage and sparing of normal tissues compared with conventional radiotherapy techniques.

Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy can also damage or kill healthy cells. The death of healthy cells can lead to side effects.

These side effects depend on the dose of radiation, and how often you have the therapy. External beam radiation may cause skin changes, such as hair loss, red or burning skin, thinning of skin tissue, or even shedding of the outer layer of skin.

Other side effects depend on the part of body receiving radiation.