Radiation therapy is painless treatment that uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to destroy cancer cells. Our radiation oncologists have years of experience safely and effectively treating melanoma with radiation, athough this treatment is used less these days due to better systemic (drug) therapies. Using the latest technology, we can precisely target tumors and minimize damage to nearby healthy tissue.
Radiation therapy may provide effective local control depending on the type of melanoma you have. Radiation therapy has also been used successfully with immunotherapy in the setting of advanced disease to promote the chance for cure. If your are a candidate for radiation therapy, your doctor will speak with you about the best options. The types of radiation therapy we use for melanoma treatment at Stanford include:
External radiation uses a machine called a linear accelerator (LINAC) to deliver radiation to the area where the cancer cells are found. Some of the types of external radiation we use include:
- 3D (3-dimensional) conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT)
With this method, 3D images help the doctor better target the tumor. The images are created using a special machine — a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. The radiation beams can be aimed from many different angles to match the exact shape of the cancer.
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
This method is similar to the first method, but the doctor can adjust how much radiation you get from each beam. In certain situations, this enables the doctor to avoid nearby normal cells to reduce the risk for side effects.
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) or stereotactic ablative radiation therapy (SABR)
This method works like the first two methods, and the total amount of radiation you get is similar. But with SBRT, the radiation is given in fewer but stronger doses. This is often used for melanomamas or other cancers.
Receiving radiation treatments
Radiation therapy does not cause pain, so you won’t feel anything during your treatments. Radiation does not make you radioactive, and you can safely be around other people, including children.
The exact number and timing of your radiation treatments depends on the type of melanomama you have and the type of radiation therapy you need:
- Typically, you will be treated once a day, Monday through Friday, over a few weeks.
- Most treatment sessions take 15 to 30 minutes, but some may take up to 1 hour.
- We offer treatment sessions between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at our Cancer Centers in Palo Alto, Pleasanton, South Bay, and Turlock.
Radiation therapy side effects
Everyone has a different response to radiation therapy. It may cause short-term side effects during treatment or long-term side effects after treatment ends.
The side effects of treatment depend on the type of radiation you receive, the dose, and your overall health. Common side effects that you may experience after radiation treatment include:
- Skin color changes, like a tan or sunburn
- Skin irritation
- Skin side effects from radiation therapy are often managed in the Supportive Dermato-Oncology Clinic, in conjunction with Stanford Radiation Oncology.
No matter what you experience, your care team can help ease the side effects of treatment. At least once a week, your radiation oncology team will meet with you to discuss your progress and any side effects that you may have.