Academics > Academic Divisions & Departments > Radiation Therapy > What is Radiation Therapy?

What is Radiation Therapy?

The cancerous cell is considered to be an outlaw cell.  It is characterized by abnormalities in the division and replication phase of the cell cycle. The result of this uncontrollable division is a lump, termed a malignant tumor or mass.

Radiation therapy is one of the most common treatments for cancer and is prescribed in more than half of all cancer cases.  It works on the premise that cancerous cells are more sensitive than normal cells to the damaging effects of radiation.  Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays, gamma rays, electron beams, or other ionizing radiation to produce biologic changes in the DNA of such a cell.  Altering the DNA in this way causes cell death at the time of division, potentially eliminating the malignancy. Radiation therapy is used either on its own or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy to achieve a cure for cancer in some patients and to ease the pain from cancer in others.  Although Radiation Therapy primarily treats cancer, other disorders and conditions can be managed through the administration of radiation therapy.  

Today, radiation therapy is one of the most technically advanced modalities for the treatment of cancer.  Conformal therapy using Multileaf Collimation, Image Guided Radiation, Intensity Modulation, Tomotherapy, Arc Therapy, and Respiratory Gating direct the treatment beam to the tumor while sparing the surrounding healthy area.  Although some normal cells may be affected by radiation, this is temporary with most recovering fully from the effects of the treatment.

Who Becomes a Radiation Therapist?

Radiation therapists are involved in all aspects of care of the cancer patient.  A high level of skill is required to serve the emotional as well as the physical needs of the patient, since many are seriously ill and under stress.  In addition to maintaining pleasant, positive relationships with their patients, radiation therapists must be able to interact effectively with physicians and with the therapy team.

Students accepted into the Radiation Therapy Program come from many different backgrounds and are motivated by many different factors.  A few of the personality traits that lead to success in the program are:

  • The desire to combine a traditional academic education with technical skills that are in high demand.
  • Commitment and dedication to a rigorous one year training program.
  • Inherent personality attributes of compassion and empathy that may be cultivated and displayed when interacting with patients, their family and their friends.