Radiation Oncology in Portland

Harnessing the power of radiation to treat cancer

The radiation oncology department at Adventist Health Portland offers many up-to-date technologies including image guided radiation therapy (IGRT), intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). To provide patients with the individualized care they need, our staff is experienced in advanced approaches to treatment. In addition, we offer the latest technologies in well-equipped facilities to provide the best care possible.

Our patients often receive other treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy or surgery as well as radiation therapy. To ensure the best possible outcome, this multidisciplinary approach requires collaboration and coordination among the specialists on a patient's treatment team. Therefore, during your first visit you will meet with your radiation oncologist.

Your radiation oncologist may consult with any other specialists necessary before your treatment begins to determine the best course of action. In addition, other members of the cancer support services may be brought in to better help you successfully manage your treatment.

The major goal of radiation therapy is to maximize curing cancer while maintaining optimal organ function and quality of life. Because each patient's case presents unique challenges and requires individualized attention, we urge you to consult your radiation oncologist about which treatment plan is best for you. It is extremely important to seek out an expert team of board-certified physicians who specialize in your type of cancer to ensure an optimal outcome.

Defining radiation therapy

Radiation therapy (sometimes called radiotherapy, X-ray therapy or irradiation) is the treatment of disease using penetrating beams of high-energy waves or streams of particles called radiation.

Many years ago, doctors learned how to use this energy to "see" inside the body and find disease. You've probably seen a chest X-ray or X-ray pictures of your teeth or bones. At high energies (many times those used for standard X-ray exams), radiation is used to treat cancer and other illnesses.

The radiation used for cancer treatment usually comes from a special machine. Radiation therapy aims specific amounts of the radiation at tumors or areas of the body where the disease is located.

How radiation therapy works

Radiation in high doses kills cells or keeps them from growing and dividing. Because cancer cells grow and divide more rapidly than most of the normal cells around them, radiation therapy can successfully treat many kinds of cancer. Normal cells are also affected by the radiation, but, unlike cancer cells, most of them recover from the effects of radiation.

To protect normal cells, doctors carefully limit the doses of radiation and spread the treatment out over time. They also shield as much normal tissue as possible while they aim the radiation at the site of the cancer.

The goals & benefits of radiation therapy

The goal of radiation therapy is to kill the cancer cells with as little risk as possible to the normal cells. Radiation therapy can be used to treat many kinds of cancer in almost any part of the body. In fact, almost half of all people with cancer are treated with radiation.

For many cancer patients, radiation is the only kind of treatment they need. Thousands of people who have had radiation therapy alone or in combination with other types of treatment are free of cancer.

Radiation treatment, like surgery, is a local treatment – it affects the cancer cells only in a specific area of the body. Sometimes doctors add radiation therapy to treatments that reach all parts of the body (systemic treatment), such as chemotherapy or biological therapy, to improve treatment results. You may hear your doctor use the term adjuvant therapy for a treatment that is added to, and given after, the primary therapy.

Possible side effects

Physical side effects from radiation therapy are generally confined to the area being treated. In general, many patients will experience some overall fatigue near the third week of treatment. Even though a treatment area may be small, the body works hard during treatment to repair normal cells and eliminate dying cancer cells from the body. It is important to pamper yourself with extra rest and good nutrition during treatment.

Other general side effects may include some skin irritation and reddening in the area of treatment after a few weeks. Radiation will not make you nauseous unless the stomach is in the treatment field.

Patients will lose their hair if the area being treated has hair. Hair loss will be specific to the shape of the treatment field.

Additional side effects will also depend on the other therapies being used to treat your cancer. Chemotherapy when given together with radiation can enhance some side effects. Patients treated in this fashion will be monitored closely by both your radiation oncologist and chemotherapy physician.

Most side effects from radiation therapy are easily managed during the course of treatment. Any long-term side effects will vary dependent upon the area being treated. Your radiation oncologist will discuss the risks and benefits of treatment during the initial office visit.