Radiation Therapy

A Full Spectrum of Radiation Treatments

Unlike most community hospitals, ThedaCare Cancer Care offers four different types of radiation treatment. Specialists at the Martha Siekman Cancer Center at Appleton Medical Center will help you get the best outcome possible.

What Is Radiation?

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or radioactive materials to destroy cancer cells while preserving the healthy tissue around the affected area. Specific amounts of radiation are directed at a tumor or cancerous tissue, to stop the cancer cells from growing and dividing.

Some people only receive radiation treatment for their cancer, while others receive it in addition to surgery and/or chemotherapy.

Types of Radiation Therapy

The specific type and location of your cancer, as well as the stage and size, determine the type of radiation therapy you’ll receive. These are the main treatment types we offer:

External Beam Radiotherapy—the most common form of radiation therapy, this treatment uses high-energy x-rays generated through a beam by a special machine called a linear accelerator. High doses of radiation are directed at cancer cells through the beam, to destroy them or prevent them from growing.

Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT)—a special type of external beam radiation, this treatment conforms to the shape of the tumor and delivers selective beams of radiation, minimizing the impact on non-cancerous areas. It’s administered through the TomoTherapy® system, a cutting-edge radiation tool that gives IMRT treatments with three-dimensional image guidance. ThedaCare is one of only 10 healthcare facilities in the state of Wisconsin to offer this technology.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS)—performed with the revolutionary CyberKnife® Robotic Radiosurgery System, this treatment delivers very finely focused beams of high-dose radiation to destroy a tumor. It is painless and completely non-invasive—the treatment involves no incisions. A robotic arm moves to precisely deliver radiation to specific areas of the body, reaching tumors that may otherwise be considered inoperable.

Brachytherapy—this type of radiation therapy uses radioactive sources that are implanted in the body. Providing radiation internally, these sources can be implanted permanently in a tumor or cancerous area (such as a low-dose-rate seed implant for prostate cancer), or temporarily for high-dose-rate treatments (for breast, gynecologic, and other cancer types).

What to Expect During Treatment

Before you begin treatment, you’ll meet with your radiation oncologist, a doctor who specializes in radiation therapy. Together, you’ll discuss the best radiation treatment for your cancer. You’ll then be scheduled for a simulation, which will "simulate" how you’ll be positioned, and where the radiation will be delivered, using a CT scanner, which is a large x-ray machine.

A few days later, once the radiation therapy team has completed your radiation treatment plan, you’ll begin treatment. Treatments are painless—they’re similar to what it’s like to have an x-ray taken. You’ll lie down on a table while the machine providing your treatment administers the radiation. The machine will be controlled by your radiation therapist, from an area outside the treatment room. He or she will still be able to see, hear, and talk to you throughout the process.

It’s important to remain still while having radiation treatment, to avoid damaging healthy tissue around the cancerous area. The procedure can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, and usually occurs daily. You may need to receive treatment for a week, a month, or more—it all depends on you, your cancer, and how it’s responding.

Side Effects

While radiation is painless, it can still have side effects. These typically vary based on the area being treated. Common side effects may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Mouth and throat irritation
  • Hair loss and scalp irritation
  • Painful swallowing
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin irritation

Throughout treatment, you and your doctor will discuss any issues you may be having. He or she will provide information and tips to help you cope. You can also talk with your radiation nurse, who will be happy to assist you with any concerns.