Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams (x-rays) to destroy cancer cells. It is one of the primary therapies for the treatment of limited stage small cell lung cancer (cancer confined to the portion of the lung where it originated). It is not, however, generally used in the treatment of extensive stage disease (cancer that has spread to the second lung or other parts of the body).
If you have limited stage disease, you will likely receive external beam radiation therapy at the same time as chemotherapy, starting with the first or second cycle of treatment. Radiation therapy for lung cancer can be administered either once or twice a day.
Using the most advanced technologies, physicians at Memorial Sloan-Kettering can now deliver powerful doses of radiation directly to the tumor with remarkable precision. This can reduce the number of sessions required for radiation treatment in comparison with more conventional approaches, 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 a form of external beam radiation therapy called intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) to treat lung cancer. Following a CT scan that maps your tumor in three dimensions, IMRT uses sophisticated computer programs to calculate and deliver radiation directly to it from different angles. This technology targets tumors while avoiding causing injury to surrounding healthy tissue.
We also pioneered the integration of PET imaging into the radiation treatment planning process. While the traditional method of using a CT scan to locate the tumor can sometimes damage normal, non-cancerous tissue, PET simulator technology enables doctors to more precisely — and safely — target the tissue containing cancer cells.
Prophylactic Cranial Irradiation (PCI)
In many people, small cell lung cancer spreads (metastasizes) to the brain even after a positive response to initial treatments. Prophylactic (preventive) cranial irradiation is a whole-brain radiation therapy that can help prevent the development of brain metastases.
Studies have shown a benefit to administering whole brain radiation therapy in patients who show a response to treatment with first-line chemotherapy. In particular, this technique has been found to decrease the risk of developing brain metastases and to improve survival in patients with small cell lung cancer.