Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy

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Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) uses linear accelerators to safely and painlessly deliver precise radiation doses to a tumor while minimizing the dose to surrounding normal tissue.

Your radiation oncologist will speak with you to determine whether IMRT is the most appropriate treatment for you. If so, your doctor will perform a physical exam and use CT scanning to conduct a treatment simulation session. Other imaging procedures may be used to help determine the exact shape and location of your tumor, and a special device may be created to help you maintain the same exact position during each treatment. Your doctor will give you specific instructions based on the type of exam being performed.

What is Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy and how is it used?

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is an advanced mode of high-precision radiotherapy that uses computer-controlled linear accelerators to deliver precise radiation doses to a malignant tumor or specific areas within the tumor. IMRT allows for the radiation dose to conform more precisely to the three-dimensional (3-D) shape of the tumor by modulating—or controlling—the intensity of the radiation beam in multiple small volumes. IMRT also allows higher radiation doses to be focused to regions within the tumor while minimizing the dose to surrounding normal critical structures. Treatment is carefully planned by using 3-D computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance (MRI) images of the patient in conjunction with computerized dose calculations to determine the dose intensity pattern that will best conform to the tumor shape. Typically, combinations of multiple intensity-modulated fields coming from different beam directions produce a custom tailored radiation dose that maximizes tumor dose while also minimizing the dose to adjacent normal tissues.

Because the ratio of normal tissue dose to tumor dose is reduced to a minimum with the IMRT approach, higher and more effective radiation doses can safely be delivered to tumors with fewer side effects compared with conventional radiotherapy techniques. IMRT also has the potential to reduce treatment toxicity, even when doses are not increased. Due to its complexity, IMRT does require slightly longer daily treatment times and additional planning and safety checks before the patient can start the treatment than conventional radiotherapy.

Currently, IMRT is being used most extensively to treat cancers of the prostate, head and neck, and central nervous system. IMRT has also been used in limited situations to treat breast, thyroid, lung, as well as in gastrointestinal, gynecologic malignancies and certain types of sarcomas. IMRT may also be beneficial for treating pediatric malignancies.

Radiation therapy, including IMRT, stops cancer cells from dividing and growing, thus slowing or stopping tumor growth. In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all of the cancer cells, thus shrinking or eliminating tumors.