What is Radiation Therapy for Spine?

Radiation therapy (RT), also called radiotherapy and external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), is a common type of treatment for spine cancer and spine metastasis—cancer that has migrated to the spine from another part of the body. The prescribed dose of radiation is aimed at the tumor to stop or slow its growth, or eliminate it. A course of EBRT typically involves several daily treatments, called fractions, over the course over a few days to a few weeks. Radiation can be used alone or in addition to surgery or chemotherapy.

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), also called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), delivers a high dose of radiation to a focused target in either a single session or a small number of fractions. SRS is often called ‘knifeless’ surgery due to the ability to precisely target cancer cells, typically in a single session, while sparing surrounding healthy spine tissue and critical structures like the spinal cord. Studies show that when performed as a primary treatment in spine metastasis from some cancers, like renal cell carcinoma, SRS provides relatively better pain relief and better local control than that obtained from RT.1

SRS can be delivered in two ways:

  • Linear Accelerator (LINAC)—uses high energy X-Rays to treat tumors. Microwave technology is used to speed up electrons, which are aimed at a heavy metal target located in the LINAC, creating the high-energy X-Rays. For many cancers, LINAC therapy is one of the most precise and advanced forms of radiation treatment available.
  • Cobalt-60 Therapy—radiation for this treatment comes from a gamma-emitting radioactive isotope of cobalt, which is used to treat tumors.

See  Understand Radiation Therapy for Spine Disorders for a more in-depth discussion of the treatment technologies.

1 Practice Update