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What is brain tumor radiation therapy?

Brain tumor radiation therapy is used to destroy tumor cells to slow or stop the growth of a tumor. It is sometimes delivered by itself, and other times used in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy. The specifics of your brain cancer radiation therapy plan may be based on several factors, including the type and size of the brain tumor and the extent of disease.  Depending on the type of cancer, location of cancer and your overall health, various different techniques are used to deliver the radiation therapy. Each technique has advantages and disadvantages. 

Our approach

At Northwell Health Cancer Institute, a variety of brain cancer radiation therapies are used to destroy cancer cells and slow tumor growth without harming nearby healthy tissue. These include therapies using the most precise radiosurgery devices available.

The Department of Radiation Medicine offers access to the greatest resource of treatment options in the region. Our physicians work with your medical team and keep your personal preferences in mind while creating your care plan, resulting in a truly unique strategy that is best suited to you.

All radiation therapies are administered using evidence-based medicine. A multidisciplinary team of doctors, including radiologists, surgeons, pathologists, medical oncologists and radiology oncologists, collaborates on treatment plans to ensure that every aspect of treatment is precisely coordinated for the best possible outcome. This includes ongoing peer review and chart rounds.

Because convenience is a priority, we offer multiple locations for radiation therapy to enable you to obtain treatment near where you live or work. 

Types of

The goal of brain tumor radiation therapy is to provide the most precise radiation treatment while reducing exposure to nearby healthy brain tissue. The therapy that is chosen depends on the size and location of your tumor. In some cases, multiple forms of radiation therapy may be used.
Some types of brain tumor radiation therapy include:

Gamma Knife Icon stereotactic radiosurgery
The Gamma Knife Icon is the most precise radiosurgery device in the market and the only technology with ultra-precise microradiosurgery capability. This new technology allows treatment for brain abnormalities without surgery. It is bloodless, virtually painless, does not result in hair loss and allows a rapid return to pre-treatment activities. Gamma Knife treatment also has excellent, well-documented clinical outcomes for a variety of brain diseases and disorders. With the Icon system, which incorporates real-time motion management, Gamma Knife treatment can now be offered for certain patients without placement of a head frame. 

Gamma Knife treatment can replace brain surgery in some patients with brain tumors, vascular malformations and facial pain. An individual who would be at risk for complications from conventional surgery may be a candidate for Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Gamma Knife treatment can be used when prior surgery or radiation therapy has failed to control the disease process. It can also be used in conjunction with conventional surgery in previously inoperable cases, other forms of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS)
Sterotactic radiosurgery (SRS) is a technique used to deliver high doses of radiation therapy with pin-point accuracy to a small areas. This technique is used to treat small tumors contained in localized areas of the brain or spinal cord, as well as some benign growths including acoustic neuroma, trigeminal neuralgia and vascular abnormalities. 

Some additional potential advantages of SRS for brain cancer include:

  • SRS modulates the intensity of the radiation beams, sparing the surrounding, healthy brain tissue from significant doses of radiation.
  • Using this radiosurgical approach, we can reach tumors in the brain without the risks of surgery. There are no incisions, minimal discomfort, reduced recovery times, and few of the risks typically associated with surgery, such as infection.
  • Because of its precision, SRS may be an option for individuals who have received previous radiation, as SRS can avoid previously treated areas.

Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
Because of its accuracy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) may help to reduce damage to healthy brain tissue and minimize side effects. As a result, IMRT is particularly useful when treating tumors that are close to critical structures in the brain, such as the brain stem or the nerves of the eyes.

Compared to standard radiotherapy, IMRT may allow a radiation oncologist to use higher doses of radiation from any angle and shape radiation beams to match the contour of the brain tumor. At the same time, IMRT is designed to help spare healthy brain tissues and reduce side effects.

Proton beam therapy
Compared to traditional radiation, which uses photons, proton beam radiotherapy is a technique of radiation that can be utilized to help further reduce radiation exposure to nearby healthy brain tissue. It is particularly useful in certain types of base of skull tumors such as chordoma, in which the cancer often is in near proximity with sensitive areas of the brain. 

Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT)
With image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), we can locate and track the brain tumor at the time of treatment and conform the radiation to the tumor, limiting radiation exposure to nearby healthy brain tissues. This decreases side effects and complications while delivering the same radiation dose.

CyberKnife provides a non-invasive option for brain cancer patients who are unable to undergo surgery because of the location of the tumor or other factors. The CyberKnife System’s sophisticated software can pinpoint a brain tumor’s exact location in real time using X-ray images taken during treatment. This allows us to precisely deliver radiation to the tumor while reducing damage to surrounding sensitive brain tissue. Also, unlike other radiosurgery systems, CyberKnife for brain cancer does not require patients to be fitted with a rigid, invasive head frame. Instead, patients wear a non-invasive, custom-fitted soft mesh mask.

TrueBeam's sophisticated software can pinpoint a brain tumor's exact location in real time using X-ray images taken during treatment. This allows us to precisely deliver radiation to the tumor while reducing damage to surrounding sensitive brain tissue. Unlike other radiation therapy systems, TrueBeam does not require brain cancer patients to be locked down using a halo bolted to the skull. Instead, patients wear a noninvasive, custom-fitted mesh mask.

Other types of brain tumor radiation include fractionated stereotactic radiation therapy and 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT).

Research at Northwell

Advances in brain cancer radiation therapy are continuously happening at Northwell Health Cancer Institute. With innovations in radiation therapy technology and techniques, we continue to improve outcomes. Through alliances with leading research organizations such as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, we participate in investigator-initiated trials to offer the most leading-edge therapies to patients. 

Northwell Health Cancer Institute is recognized worldwide for its commitment to providing pioneering treatment for cancer patients. The ongoing focus on improving cancer treatments has contributed to significant advancements that are improving the quality of lives and increasing the number of cancer survivors.

Learn more about clinical trials and research happening at Northwell Health Cancer Institute.

Possible side effects

Side effects of brain cancer radiation therapies include:

  • Fatigue
  • Mild skin irritation
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea
  • Neurologic symptoms

Most side effects usually go away after treatment ends; however, you may feel very tired for four to six weeks after your last treatment. Talk to your doctor about ways to treat any potential side effects.

Support groups

Cancer is challenging, but you don’t have to go it alone. At Northwell Health Cancer Institute, a wide range of support groups are available to help you cope with diagnosis, treatment and post-treatment issues.

Learn more about support groups.

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