So, you have to get radiation therapy?

The types of radiation treatment Karmanos and McLaren offers

Developing treatment plans for cancer patients is a multi-modality approach and a team effort among physicians across the Karmanos Cancer Network. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, radiation therapy may be part of the treatment plan. Patients at Karmanos and McLaren have access to the most advanced technologies available to treat cancer.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy is the use of ionizing radiation to treat cancer. It’s also called X-ray therapy, radiotherapy, XRT, or irradiation.

Patient treatment plans may include radiation to:

  • Cure their cancer.
  • Stop cancer from spreading.
  • Slow the tumor’s growth.
  • Relieve symptoms that may be caused by cancer.
  • Ease pain due to cancer.

Our experts use the most advanced technology to aim radiation at tumors directly. Depending on the patient's case, radiation treatment can be delivered externally and internally. Karmanos radiation oncologists work closely with patients to provide them with options and decide on the radiation course that best fits their treatment needs.

Types of radiation therapy offered at Karmanos and McLaren

External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT)

As the name suggests, radiation is delivered externally to the tumor site from a large machine. The machine does not touch the patient but may move around to get the best angle to treat the cancer site. The treatment is localized, so radiation is only delivered to the area where the tumor is located. There are many types of EBRT treatments available throughout the Karmanos Cancer Network, including three-dimensional (3D) conformal radiation therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), and adaptive radiation therapy (ART). Some of these modalities are described further below.

Adaptive radiation therapy (ART)

ART is the future of personalized radiation therapy, one of the most advanced ways to deliver treatment. This new therapy allows specialists to adapt a patient’s treatment plan based on their tumor and anatomical changes. Available at the Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit, ART is driven by artificial intelligence (AI) to increase radiation therapy's capability, flexibility and efficiency. The goal is to target the tumor better, reduce the dose of X-rays delivered to healthy tissue and potentially improve overall outcomes. ART can be used to treat the following cancers:

  • Anal cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Gynecologic cancers, such as cervical, uterine and ovarian cancer

Proton therapy

Instead of X-rays, proton therapy is a radiation oncology treatment that uses protons to precisely target and treat tumors while sparing healthy tissues and organs from unnecessary radiation. Protons are directed to travel in the body no further than the depth of the tumor. Less exposure to other tissues may lead to minimal side effects. Proton therapy is not appropriate for all cancers, but it is particularly applicable when:

  • The tumor is close to critical structures.
  • The patient is at a high risk of having radiation treatment side effects.
  • Curative doses of conventional radiation cannot be delivered safely.
  • Previous radiation has been given at or close to the target tumor.
  • A tumor cannot be surgically removed safely.
  • Cancer returns to the exact location after previous radiation treatments.
  • The patient is young. Proton therapy can result in minimal possible long-term effects, giving the patient a better quality of life.

Proton therapy is only available at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center in Flint, part of the Karmanos Cancer Network.

Stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT)

SRT is an external radiation therapy where the patient’s position is essential to the treatment delivery. The treatment plan may consist of several small doses over several days. Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) are two types of SRT.

Gamma Knife – a stereotactic radiosurgery system

Gamma Knife is an innovative technology only offered at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at Lawrence and Idell Weisberg Cancer Center in Farmington Hills. The Gamma Knife is the most precise SRS currently available. Contrary to its name, there is no blade and no cutting – instead, the highly sophisticated non-invasive technology uses radiation to damage targeted tissue precisely. Precision is critical because Gamma Knife treats intracranial tumors in areas such as the brain, brain stem or the trigeminal nerve. With accuracy in mind, radiation oncologists can spare healthy brain and body tissue, allowing patients to maintain normal functions that impact their quality of life.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)

Like SRS, SBRT is used for small, isolated tumors outside the brain and spinal cord. Patients are held in a particular position while a highly precise beam is delivered to a small area. This type of external radiation therapy is often used for tumors in the liver or lung. SBRT is usually an option for patients who may not be able to have surgery because of their age, specific health problems, or due to where the tumor is located.


Brachytherapy is a radiation therapy delivered internally with seeds, ribbons or capsules. Placed in or near the tumor, it is a local treatment that focuses radiation to a specific area, so the treatment is directed to the tumor site, enhancing cancer control while minimizing exposure of X-rays to nearby healthy tissues and vital organs. Brachytherapy is often used to treat:

  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Eye cancer
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Prostate cancer

Total body irradiation (TBI)

As its name suggests, TBI is given to the entire body. It is internal radiation often used with high-dose anticancer drugs given in preparation for a stem cell transplant. TBI kills cancer cells so new blood stem cells can grow following the transplant. This method of radiation therapy may also help prevent the body from rejecting new cells.

Karmanos Cancer Network patients can access all the radiation therapy options mentioned above. If radiation is part of your treatment plan, your Karmanos physician will discuss your options. The type of cancer, size and location of the tumor, and its specific makeup will determine which radiation therapy options you are eligible for. Ask your radiation oncologist and Karmanos care team questions to understand your treatment plan.

For more information on radiation therapy at Karmanos and McLaren, click here.