Radio or radiation therapy is one of the most effective therapies in the treatment of cancer. The IGRT or Image-guided radiation therapy helps in improving the accuracy and precision of delivering this treatment. It works very well in treating tumors in those areas of the body that move (example, lungs).
How it Works
Through CT scanning a treatment simulation session is conducted. The areas that are to be treated will be marked. This is followed by the actual IGRT procedure that involves the following steps :
The first step in image guided radio therapy is to position the patient carefully based on the marks that are made on the skin in order to define the areas to be treated. Special devices may be used to make sure the patient maintains this position throughout the treatment.
The imaging equipment in the radiation delivery machine then starts taking images of the tumors.
The radiation therapist or the physician reviews these images and compares them with the ones that were taken during the simulation.
In case there are tumors in other areas, it might require repositioning of the patient and additional imaging procedures to be performed.
Once all the adjustments are made, the radiation therapy is delivered. The image-guided procedure adds up to the time taken by the radiation therapy session, making sure that great precision and accuracy is achieved during the treatment.
Eligibility for IGRT
Since IGRT works well in identifying tumors in the areas that move, it is ideal for cancers and tumors that are located near sensitive structures and organs. However, it can definitely be used for all kinds of cancers such as lung cancer, prostate cancer and so on.
Side Effects & Risks
You may not feel any pain while the imaging is being performed either before or during the radiation therapy. However while the radiation is being delivered you might come across a few side effects. This depends upon the area of the body where you are receiving treatment, the dosage of the radiation you are receiving and the kind of radiation that is being delivered.
During or immediately after the Radiation therapy you may come across some amount of fatigue as well as a few skin problems such as redness, irritation or swelling. In some cases you may also experience some dryness, peeling, itching, and even blistering. However these will disappear in a few days.
The other side effects of radiation treatment include:
hair loss in the area that has been treated
difficulty in swallowing
problems with digestion
nausea and vomiting
soreness in the area that has been treated
changes in bladder
Preparing for IGRT or Image Guided Radiation Therapy
If you are a pregnant lady or a lactating mother, it is better to inform your radiation technologist or physician. It is also important to inform if you have any pacemaker or loose metal in your body, in case the team is using MRI for simulation.
In certain cases your doctor may place something called a fiducial marker or an electromagnetic transponder inside your body, near the tumor, so that the area to be treated can be identified accurately. In such cases these would be placed about a week before the day of your first radiation therapy treatment. In some cases the area may be tattooed or marked with colored ink.
If you have prostate cancer and in case you have to go for IGRT with ultrasound, it is important to drink adequate amount of water about an hour before your treatment so that your prostate can be imaged by the ultrasound.
Apart from the above, you may have to prepare for your routine radiation therapy, which may be 3-D conformal radiation therapy, proton beam therapy, stereotactic body radiotherapy or intensity modulated radiation therapy.
What to expect after IGRT?
IGRT is a procedure that maximizes the cancer destroying ability of the radiation therapy. It makes sure minimal damage is caused to the healthy tissues surrounding the area, thereby minimizing the side effects. Nevertheless radiation therapy poses a slight risk of developing secondary cancer. Therefore, it is very important to attend your follow-up sessions regularly and make sure there are no recurrences or new cancers.
Although rare, you may experience a few side effects in the next few months / years following your radiation treatment. These are more of permanent nature and include:
changes in your brain
changes in your spinal cord
changes in your lung
changes in your kidney
changes in your rectum and colon
changes in your joints
changes in your mouth
Results of Image Guided Radio Therapy
If carried out well and monitored, IGRT can help you remain free from cancer for the rest of your life. By adopting a healthy lifestyle that might include a balanced diet and regular exercises, you can slowly get back to your normal life, thereby improving your quality of life.
There are going to be more advancement in technology with the kind of research that is happening in cancer across the world. Early detection is the key to the successful treatment of cancer. Prevention is even better!