A sarcoma diagnosis can be a challenge to absorb. It’s not easy to manage treatment along with work or school, relationships, and other life priorities. At the Stanford Cancer Center, we’re here to help.
Radiation therapy is a form of high energy X-rays which can destroy or prevent the spread of cancer. The goal is to target cancer, while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy cells.
Treatment of sarcoma varies by the location of the tumor. Sarcomas may be found almost anywhere in the body – in bone or in soft tissues. Your doctor will help you make an informed decision about which treatment options may be right for you.
Regarding your treatment plan, please keep in mind that:
- It may involve one or more of the 3 main types of treatment: radiation therapy, surgery, and drug therapy (medications like chemotherapy that travel through the bloodstream to attack cancer anywhere in the body).
- Your doctors may prescribe a treatment plan that combines treatments.
The combination of treatment types may need to take place in a specific order to best treat your specific condition.
Your health care team will work with you to develop a treatment plan. If that includes radiation therapy, the team will talk to you about your treatment goals.
Types of external beam radiation
Our radiation oncologists deliver this type of radiation to the cancer using machines outside the body. The radiation machine moves around your body without touching you.
External radiation therapy does not cause pain, so you won’t feel anything during your treatments.
This treatment, also called external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), does not make you radioactive. You can safely be around other people, including children.
External beam radiation is the most common approach to radiation treatment. It is produced by machines with various brand names including TrueBeam and CyberKnife. These machines move around the outside of your body, but they never touch you. You won’t feel anything.
Radiation therapy can be delivered in different ways:
- 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 allows for better avoidance of nearby normal cells and thus has fewer potential 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 this method, the radiation is given in fewer but stronger doses.
Sometimes external beam radiation therapy is done at the time of surgery.
Intraoperative radiation therapy delivers radiation to the cancer site after your surgeon removes the tumor. Your radiation cancer doctor delivers focused radiation to the site, before the incision is closed. This treatment is given just once, in this single dose.
For each treatment, most of your appointment will be spent getting your body positioned correctly. The actual treatment lasts just a few minutes.
Risks and 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:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loose or frequent stools, diarrhea
- Trouble swallowing
- Skin changes: may be red, itchy, dry, peeling, or weepy
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 you may have.