Different types of external radiotherapy
The type of radiotherapy you have will depend on the type of cancer you have, and which part of the body needs treating.
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This uses a device inside the radiotherapy machine to shape the radiotherapy beams to fit the treatment area.
Conformal radiotherapy is used to treat a number of different cancers, including cancers of the head and neck, prostate, gullet (oesophagus), some types of lung cancer, breast cancer and brain tumours.
Intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)
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IMRT shapes the radiotherapy beams and allows different doses of radiotherapy to be given to different parts of the treatment area. This means lower doses of radiotherapy can be given to healthy tissue, particularly healthy tissue that’s more easily damaged by radiotherapy. As a result, immediate and long-term side effects are reduced.
Because IMRT can reduce damage to healthy tissue and side effects, it’s often used to treat tumours that are close to important organs or structures. For example, when IMRT is used to treat pelvic tumours, it can reduce the risk of long-term bowel problems. When it’s used for head and neck tumours, it can reduce damage to the salivary glands and the risk of permanent mouth dryness. It may also allow higher doses of radiotherapy to be given to the tumour.
Many, but not all, treatment centres in the UK provide IMRT for people that need it. It’s generally accepted that IMRT should be used for 3 in every 10 (30%) people who are having curative treatment. It’s mainly used to treat breast, head and neck, prostate, bladder and lung cancers.
You can find out more about IMRT and whether it’s a suitable treatment for you from your clinical oncologist. They can arrange for you to have IMRT at another treatment centre if it’s not possible for you to have it at your local centre.
Our page on IMRT gives more information about when IMRT is used, how it's given and possible side effects.
Image guided radiotherapy (IGRT)
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Before, and sometimes during, a course of radiotherapy, images are taken to make sure the treatment accurately targets the treatment area. With IGRT, images are taken just before each treatment. This may involve taking x-ray images or moving the machine around you to get an image similar to a CT scan. The images can be compared to those taken during the planning scan. They are used to make adjustments to the treatment area, making it very precise.
IGRT is helpful because some tumours can shrink in size and change shape during the treatment. Others can change position between treatment sessions. For example, the position of a tumour in the prostate gland or cervix can be altered by a full bladder or bowel on the day of your treatment. With IGRT, adjustments can be made before each treatment to allow for these changes to the tumour shape or position.
Every person should have IGRT as part of their treatment. How it’s carried out varies in different radiotherapy centres. You may want to ask your team for more information about how IGRT is being used to check your treatment is accurate.