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SBRT: Advanced radiotherapy cancer treatment

Mom and daughter reading a children's book in bed - Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)
Stereotactic body radiation therapy, or SBRT, is a specialized way to administer radiation therapy to treat small tumors in the body.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy, or SBRT, is a specialized way to administer radiation therapy to treat small tumors in the body.

SBRT uses many separate beams of radiation that meet at one point in the tumor to make a supercharged dose of radiation. This kills the cancer cells at that location in your body.

Doctors have used a similar technique called stereotactic radiosurgery for many years to treat brain tumors.

“Someone thought to apply that same technology to cancer spots outside of the brain, so SBRT was developed,” said Dr. David Lee, radiation oncologist with Marshfield Clinic Health System.

This procedure was first used for lung cancer and is now a standard treatment alternative to surgery for many other cancers including:

Advantages over surgery

Despite the effectiveness of SBRT, surgery is still the preferred option for the types of cancer SBRT can treat.

However, there are many reasons people are not able to have surgery including medical co-morbidities or poor breathing function in the case of lung cancer.

Some patients also refuse to undergo surgery because of the risks and amount of recovery time. SBRT is an outpatient procedure, so it does not require prolonged recovery time in a medical facility.

“Since it is a treatment alternative, SBRT should not replace surgery,” Lee said.

To help make the decision, your radiation and surgical oncologists should discuss the best course of treatment with you.

Advantages over traditional radiation therapy

It can take up to 30 days to complete traditional radiation therapy. This is much longer than SBRT, which typically takes five treatments or less.

You can actually take roughly the same dose you’d give over 30 days and shrink it down to five treatments or less,” Lee said. “We can actually increase the tumor response rate because you are given a high dose per daily session.”

Even though these are higher doses than traditional radiation therapy, the tumor fields are very small so the side effects tend to be less with SBRT.

“What we have been finding is that the type of side effects are somewhat similar to what you get with conventional radiation, but the severity and frequency is a lot less,” Lee said.

Common side effects for both traditional radiation therapy and SBRT include:

  • Fatigue
  • Skin irritation
  • Organ irritation

To reduce movement, your care team secures the parts of your body being treated.

It can take up to two weeks after planning a CT scan to develop a plan for your SBRT treatments.

For more information about this procedure, talk to your radiation oncologist.

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