Radiation Beams

Types of Radiation Beams

Photon beam radiation therapy

Photon beams are the most widely used type of radiation and is available at most hospitals and treatment centers. Photon beams are the same type of radiation that is used during an x-ray, like a chest x-ray, but at a much higher amount. The radiation is released from the machine as a wave of energy. Photon beams can travel deep into the body to the tumor but can also damage healthy tissue when traveling to/and exiting the tumor. Photons are given by a machine called a linear accelerator.

Particle beam radiation therapy

Particle beams are separate units of energy like a proton or neutron. Particle beams are given by special types of machines called particle accelerators, like a cyclotron or synchrotron. This type of radiation is often able to deliver more radiation to the tumor while reducing its effects on normal tissues in front of and behind the tumor.

Proton beam radiation therapy

Proton beam radiation therapy is an advanced and highly precise radiation treatment using protons instead of photons (x-rays) on the cancer. Unlike photons, which enter and exit the body while targeting the tumor, protons travel to the tumor without exiting the body so less healthy tissues or cells are exposed to radiation. This means that proton beam radiation can deliver radiation to the cancer while doing less damage to nearby normal tissues.  Proton beam radiation is also beneficial to treat tumors that are close to critical structures (brain, eye, arteries and nerves

Carbon ion radiotherapy (CIRT) 

Carbon ion radiotherapy (CIRT) also known as heavy ion therapy (HIT) is similar to proton therapy, except it uses carbon ions instead of protons.  Carbon ions are heavier than protons, so they can deliver more radiation to the tumor and cause more damage to cancer cells.   This radiation damages tumors which are very resistant to conventional radiation.  Like proton radiation, CIRT can hit the tumor precisely, releasing a more destructive force within the tumor while sparing surrounding healthy tissue – resulting in fewer side effects.  

International research shows promising results in cancer survival rates with carbon ion therapy. Currently, there are plans for a CIRT in the U.S. (Mayo Clinic- Florida) with a handful of centers currently available in Europe and Asia.

Neutron beam radiation therapy

Neutron beam radiation therapy has similar advantages to proton beam therapy while delivering more energy.  This high -LET (high linear-energy transfer) radiation is also referred to as fast neutron therapy.   Neutrons, pions and heavy ions deposit more energy along their path causing more damage to the cells. Prior to the development of more advanced forms delivering radiation, neutron beam was sought for inoperable tumors.  Today, studies show that this form of radiation can carry severe side effects.  Long-term damage to healthy cells and structures can cause quality of life issues. The use of any radiation treatment should be discussed with a radiation oncologist.