Radiation therapy for non-small cell lung cancer uses high-energy beams (x-rays) to destroy cancer cells by damaging their DNA. It is very effective at controlling or eliminating tumors at specific sites in the body.
Radiation therapy is often used to supplement surgery and chemotherapy. It is also an option for treating lung cancers that are confined to the lung but cannot be removed surgically, either because of a tumor’s location or because of the patient’s health. Many patients also receive radiation to treat metastases that are causing symptoms; for example, headache and weakness caused by metastases in the brain, or pain caused by metastases to the bone.
Using the most advanced technologies, we can now deliver powerful doses of radiation directly to the tumor with exquisite precision. The approaches we use can reduce the number of sessions required for radiation treatment, while also limiting the risk of side effects.
Our radiation team works together to offer the highest level of safety during every step of your treatment. Medical physicists are present during each radiation procedure to ensure that the correct dose of radiation is being delivered precisely where it is needed.
Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy
Memorial Sloan-Kettering radiation oncologists pioneered and have extensive experience using intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) to treat lung cancer. Following a CT scan that maps the tumor in three dimensions, IMRT uses sophisticated computer programs to calculate and deliver variable doses of radiation directly to the tumor, from different angles. This technology targets a tumor while sparing the healthy tissue that surrounds it. It enhances your radiation oncologist’s ability to administer a lethal dose of radiation to a lung tumor, increasing your chance for cure.
Image-Guided Radiation Therapy
Radiation oncologist Josh Yamada talks about a technique called IGRT that delivers high doses of radiation precisely along the contours of a tumor.
Some patients with small lung tumors that are completely located within one lung can be treated with a specialized form of intensity-modulated radiation therapy called image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT). Patients receiving-guided radiation therapy have the location of their tumors verified prior to each treatment. While standard radiation therapy requires patients to undergo radiation treatment every day for six to eight weeks, image-guided radiation therapy allows our radiation oncologists to administer more precisely targeted radiation in fewer treatments. This procedure requires no anesthesia and side effects are usually less than traditional methods. We treat approximately 400 patients with non-small cell lung cancer each year using image-guided radiation therapy to many areas of the body.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering also pioneered the integration of PET imaging into the radiation treatment planning process. The traditional method of using a CT scan to target the tumor can sometimes damage normal tissue containing no cancer cells. PET simulator technology allows our doctors to avoid harming healthy tissue, enabling better treatment for our patients.
Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy
Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) is a treatment for some lung tumors that are confined to the lung. SBRT combines image-guided radiation therapy with even more advanced techniques to deliver extremely high doses of radiation to the tumor while minimizing the dose to normal structures nearby. It usually requires fewer treatments than other forms of radiation therapy, and leads to similar outcomes.