Radiation Oncology

Radiation Oncology for Brain Tumors

Radiation oncology for brain tumors is a specialized medical field that focuses on using radiation therapy to treat tumors in the brain and central nervous system. Radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, involves the use of high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to target and destroy cancer cells or shrink tumors. It is a common and effective treatment option for brain tumors, either as a primary treatment or in combination with surgery and chemotherapy.

The Department of Radiation Oncology at Barrow Neurological Institute uses state-of-the-art technology and therapies for brain tumor patients. Radiation oncologists plan radiation therapy for patients on an individual basis, depending on their tumor type and unique needs. 

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses carefully targeted X-rays and high-energy radiation to target and damage cancer cells while minimizing harm to healthy tissue. By disrupting the ability of tumor cells to divide and grow, radiation therapy aims to halt the progression of a patient’s tumor. Radiation therapy is delivered by a machine called a linear accelerator (external beam radiation) or, in very rare cases, by implanted “seeds” that release radiation after being placed inside your body close to the brain tumor (brachytherapy). 

External beam radiation is given from outside the body and aims only at the area of your brain that contains the tumor. Depending on the tumor type, it can include your whole brain or just part of it. By delivering targeted doses of radiation to the tumor bed and surrounding areas, this approach targets residual tumor cells that may remain after surgery. Radiation therapy post surgery is often referred to as adjuvant radiation, which aims to reduce the risk of tumor recurrence. 

Side effects of radiation therapy depend on the type and dose. In general, side effects are fatigue, patchy hair loss, and scalp redness and itching. In brain tumor cases, radiation might lead to temporary swelling of brain tissue, causing headaches and other symptoms. 

Radiation therapy is usually an outpatient procedure; patients can go home the same day. 

Chemoradiation Therapy

Chemoradiation, a dynamic treatment approach, combines the forces of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to combat cancer synergistically. This strategy involves administering systemic chemotherapy drugs, which circulate throughout the body, alongside targeted radiation therapy. By coordinating the treatments, the radiation enhances the efficacy of chemotherapy by sensitizing tumor cells, making them more responsive to the drugs. This combination is particularly potent in addressing aggressive brain tumors or when cancer has spread beyond the primary site. Chemoradiation aims to comprehensively eradicate tumor cells, offering a comprehensive therapeutic avenue in the pursuit of improved outcomes for patients facing complex brain tumors.

Watch as Dr. William Kennedy describes how radiation works to treat tumors and explains each step of the radiation oncology process. 


Radiosurgery is not a traditional form of surgery. Instead, it uses multiple radiation beams to deliver a highly focused radiation treatment to kill the tumor cells in a small area. Each beam of radiation is not particularly powerful alone, but where all the beams meet—the brain tumor—a massive dose is delivered, killing the tumor cells. Radiosurgery is usually an outpatient procedure; it is not invasive and requires no incision. Side effects may include fatigue, headache, and nausea. Steroids may be prescribed briefly to help with these side effects. Patients usually go home the same day but may be admitted to the hospital for closer observation if necessary. Barrow offers both Gamma Knife and CyberKnife radiosurgery.

Barrow Radiation Oncologists

Radiation treatment for brain tumors aims to maximize the destruction of cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy brain tissue. The treatment decisions are personalized based on the type of tumor, its location, size, grade, and the overall health of the patient. Treatment plans are developed collaboratively, involving radiation oncologists, neurosurgeons, medical oncologists, and other specialists to provide comprehensive and targeted care for patients with brain tumors.

To make an appointment with a radiation oncologist, please call 602-406-6761.


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