What Is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy uses x-rays or other high-energy types of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. 

This can be done via externally applied x-rays or internally delivered radiation. 

It is an effective treatment for many types of cancers in almost any part of the body. 

Radiation is used in two main ways: To treat cancer and relieve symptoms, though it can be used to treat various benign conditions as well. 

Radiation oncologists at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center have extensive skill in using a range of specialized devices and techniques to deliver radiation therapy. Whether external or internal, careful measurements help the radiation oncology team know precisely where to deliver the radiation. 

Setting up each treatment takes some time, but the treatments themselves last only a few minutes. Receiving the treatment feels like undergoing an x-ray, which feels like nothing at all. 

Radiation Therapy as a Stand-Alone Cancer Treatment 

For many patients, radiation is the only treatment needed.

Types of cancers treated with radiation alone include Hodgkin’s disease and other types of lymphoma, various types of brain tumors, head and neck cancers, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and various gynecologic cancers.

However, it may also be given in combination with chemotherapy and/or surgery. It can be used before surgery to shrink a tumor, and during or after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may still be present. Sometimes radiation is used along with anticancer drugs to destroy the cancer, instead of performing surgery.

Radiation can be used as a palliative therapy, meaning that its primary intent is to relieve pressure, bleeding, or pain by shrinking tumors.

Radiation Therapy Paired with Other Cancer Treatments

Your doctor may combine radiation with other cancer treatments. 

We work with your doctor and our colleagues in surgical and medical oncology to:

  • Tailor a treatment plan to meet your unique needs
  • Deliver the most appropriate form of radiation therapy to treat your type of cancer.

Radiation therapy and surgical oncology 

You may need radiation therapy:

  • Before surgery — to shrink the tumor before surgery is done. This is called neoadjuvant treatment.
  • After surgery — to kill any cancer cells that may still be present. This is called adjuvant treatment. 

Radiation therapy and medical oncology 

Radiation oncologists regularly work with medical oncologists. 

Often, radiation is used along with anticancer drugs to destroy the cancer, instead of performing surgery. 

Radiation can also be combined with anticancer drugs in the neoadjuvant or adjuvant setting.   

Radiation Therapy as a Symptom Management

Radiation can be used as a palliative therapy, meaning that its primary intent is to relieve symptoms caused by cancer. 

Radiation as palliative treatment can help shrink or destroy a tumor that has involved nearby structures. This can relieve pressure, bleeding, or pain. 

Types of Radiation Oncology

The radiation oncology team at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center includes experts in:

Cancers We Treat With Radiation Oncology

Radiation therapy treatment may help people with the following types of cancers:

Support Services for Our Radiation Oncology Patients

Besides advanced technology, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center offers a range of services that can make you more comfortable and your radiation oncology treatments more effective.

Our support network includes:

Social workers are also part of our team.

They can inform you and your loved ones of your many social support options and provide access to:

  • Community resources
  • Transportation services
  • Other practical aid

Contact the Radiation Oncology Program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

To ask questions or learn more about radiation therapy at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, please call us at 412-647-2811.

About Radiation Oncology