Brain Tumors, Primary: Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy rays to shrink or kill cancerous tissue. Memorial Sloan Kettering has been a leader in efforts to improve radiation therapy for brain tumors. We have refined the use of sophisticated tools – including state-of-the-art linear accelerators, advanced imaging approaches, and high-speed computer-based systems – to deliver powerful doses of radiation to tumors with remarkable precision.

Our radiation team also works together to offer the highest level of safety during every step of your treatment. Radiation therapy can be used in several ways for the treatment of brain tumors:

  • as a primary treatment
  • in conjunction with surgery and/or chemotherapy as a part of primary treatment
  • as a next-line therapy to treat tumors that have recurred after primary treatment

The type of radiation that the team uses depends on a variety of factors, including the type, size, and location of the tumor.

Types of Radiation Therapy

At the Brain Tumor Center, we commonly use two types of external radiation therapy to treat brain tumors: intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT). With both IMRT and IGRT, the radiation beam is conformal, meaning that the instrument uses computer-based imaging to look at the tumor in three dimensions and shape the radiation beam to its outlines with great precision.

With IMRT, sophisticated computer software and three-dimensional images from CT scans focus high doses of radiation directly onto the tumor. These pencil-thin beams vary in intensity. This focused approach reduces the exposure of healthy brain tissue to radiation, and can lessen the side effects of treatment.

IGRT uses real-time image guidance with either a CT scan or x-rays performed at the time of radiation on the actual treatment machine to ensure a perfect set-up and lack of motion during treatment. This allows radiation to be delivered with even more accuracy. IGRT can be used to treat brain tumors of all sizes, including glioblastomas and other malignant gliomas, acoustic neuromas, meningiomas, and brain metastases.

In addition, we can perform stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) to treat small tumors with a single, high dose of radiation. This highly effective and well-tolerated treatment is one of the most powerful types of radiation therapy, and has been performed for many years at Memorial Sloan Kettering. A frame is used to stabilize the head during treatment and a specialized team of doctors and physicists work together to ensure an accurate and safe approach. 

SRS is used primarily for limited areas of brain tumor that have spread from the primary tumor, but it is also used to treat acoustic neuromas, meningiomas, and recurrent gliomas.

Radiation Safety

Ensuring your safety during radiation therapy is of the utmost importance at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Our medical physicists work closely with your radiation oncologist to meticulously plan radiation dosage before your treatment. Medical physicists are also present during treatment to ensure that radiation is delivered correctly and in the optimal locations.

We have implemented extensive safety protocols to manage our radiation therapy program. Redundancy is built into the review of the computer-based calculations that control radiation dosage, so that multiple experts check them independently. Medical physicists also examine machinery frequently to maintain proper functioning.