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MRO–Advanced radiation therapy for lung cancer, that’s close to home

In Minnesota, lung cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosis, and leading cause of cancer mortality, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Health. Incidence rates vary significantly by race, ethnicity, and geography.

If you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, you can find leading-edge technology and therapy close to home, at Minneapolis Radiation Oncology. MRO is the Twin Cities’ leading provider of advanced radiation therapy for cancer, with 11 locations across the Twin Cities, Brainerd Lakes Area, and Western Wisconsin.

We understand the uncertainty that comes with a lung cancer diagnosis. Our oncologists and supportive care teams are committed to helping you understand the complexities of the disease and how radiation treatment may help with your cancer.

“I consider it an honor and privilege to care for my patients in their times of greatest need.  The part of my career that I cherish the most is the close relationship that my team and I develop with patients.  I do everything I can to make this often-challenging process crystal clear and less frightening.”
Paul W. Sperduto, MD, MPP, FASTRO
MRO | Ridgeview

Since 1981, our radiation oncology specialists have treated over 100,000 patients – more than any other clinic in Minnesota. And we’ve established a reputation as trusted allies in the fight against cancer. Count on the cancer specialists at MRO to be here for you, with care, comfort, and compassion.Click here to request an appointment

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in one or both lungs – usually in the cells lining the air passages. Symptoms may include bloody coughs, breathing difficulties, loss of appetite, fatigue, and recurring infections.

There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell


Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
About 10%-15% of lung cancers are SCLC.  This type of lung cancer tends to be aggressive and spreads more rapidly.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type, comprising about 85% of lung cancer diagnoses. Most often, NSCLC develops slowly and causes few or no symptoms until it is far advanced.

Why choose radiation therapy for lung cancer?

The role of radiation therapy in cancer treatment has been changing rapidly since the introduction of new and advanced technology, especially in tumor tracking, image guidance, and radiation delivery. Radiation treatment is common for four reasons:

  • After surgery, to kill any remaining tumor cells in the margins.
  • As the primary treatment, if surgery is not a good option.
  • Along with chemotherapy, to maximize efficacy of treatment.
  • To help prevent or relieve symptoms from the tumor.

Radiation treatment options for lung cancer

For lung cancer, the radiation treatment options vary widely, depending on the type and the stage of the cancer and other factors.

For small cell lung cancer (SCLC), radiation therapy is considered in several situations:

  • In limited stage SCLC, radiation therapy can be given along with chemotherapy – called concurrent chemoradiation – to treat the tumor and lymph nodes in the chest.
  • Radiation can also be given after the chemotherapy is finished. This is sometimes done for patients with extensive stage disease, or it can be used for people with limited stage disease who have trouble getting chemotherapy and radiation at the same time.
  • SCLC often spreads to the brain. Radiation can be given to the brain to help lower the chances of problems from cancer spread there. This is called prophylactic cranial irradiation.
  • Radiation can be used to shrink tumors to relieve (palliate) symptoms of lung cancer such as pain, bleeding, trouble swallowing, cough, shortness of breath, and problems caused by spread to other organs such as the brain.

In cases of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), radiation therapy might be used:

  • As the primary treatment – sometimes along with chemotherapy – especially if the lung tumor can’t be removed, if a person isn’t healthy enough for surgery, or if a person doesn’t want surgery.
  • After surgery (alone or along with chemotherapy) to try to kill any small areas of cancer that surgery might have missed.
  • Before surgery (usually along with chemotherapy) to try to shrink a lung tumor to make it easier to operate on.
  • To treat a single area of cancer spread, such as a tumor in the lung or an adrenal gland. (This might be done along with surgery to treat the main lung tumor.)
  • To relieve (palliate) symptoms of advanced NSCLC such as pain, bleeding, trouble swallowing, cough, or problems caused by spread to other organs such as the brain.

Fast Fact

If you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, there’s support available to help you enjoy the best possible quality of life. Visit Coping with cancer in everyday life.

– American Cancer Society

Radiation technology is proven effective

At MRO, we use radiation, or radiotherapy, to destroy cancer cells with high doses of radiation. Using state-of-the-art imaging technologies, such as MRI, CT, and PET, your MRO care team can pinpoint radiation doses down to the millimeter. When radiation therapy is a treatment option for you, your MRO care team will work closely with your oncology care team to provide the information you and your family need in order to be fully informed about lung cancer and treatment options.

With lung cancer, there are several different techniques used. But each of them directs precise doses of radiation at cancer cells, which are more susceptible to radiation than healthy cells. Like an x-ray, radiation therapy is painless. There’s no fear of becoming radioactive during or after treatment.

Types of radiation therapy for lung tumors

Because there are so many different types of lung cancer, radiation oncology strategies differ from person to person; your own treatment plan is designed specifically for you by your MRO care team: doctors, dosimetrists, and physicists.

There are 3 main radiation therapy techniques used to treat lung cancer:

External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) delivers high doses of radiation to cancer cells from outside the body, using a variety of machine-based technologies. In recent years, newer EBRT techniques have been shown to help doctors treat lung cancers more accurately while lowering the radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissues. These include:

Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT): 3D-CRT uses imaging to map the location of the tumor precisely, then shapes and aims multiple radiation beams from different directions. Each beam itself is fairly weak, to prevent damage to normal tissues, but the beams converge at the tumor to give a higher cumulative dose at one precise spot.

Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): IMRT is an advanced form of 3D therapy. First, a treatment plan is optimized in the computer planning system, and then during treatment the machine moves around you as it delivers radiation. It shapes the beams and adjusts the intensity of the beams from all angles to limit the dose reaching nearby healthy tissues. This technique is used most often if tumors are near important structures such as the spinal cord.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT): SBRT, also known as stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), is sometimes used to treat very early-stage lung cancers when surgery isn’t an option due to a person’s health or in people who don’t want surgery. Instead of giving a small dose of radiation each day for several weeks, SBRT uses very focused beams of high-dose radiation given in fewer treatments. Several beams are aimed at the treatment area from different angles. To target the radiation precisely and reduce the movement of the lung tumor while breathing, you’re put in a specially designed body frame for each treatment.

“I am in awe of what we can do today to protect normal tissues while escalating the doses to tumors. The stereotactic technology that was unimaginable even 10-15 years ago is now something I routinely utilize. I truly enjoy talking with my patients and explaining in a straightforward, understandable way, what the benefit of radiation will be for them personally, and what the process entails.”
Janel Cox, MD
MRO | St. Paul Regions

Despite the very serious prognosis of lung cancer, some people with earlier stage cancers are cured. More than 430,000 people alive today have been diagnosed with lung cancer at some point.

Your treatment is a team effort

When you talk with your doctor about treatment options, ask if MRO is the right choice for you and get a referral. We’ll start with a consultation appointment lasting one or two hours. During that time you’ll meet with a radiation oncologist to make sure radiation is the right choice for you.

Once the radiation oncologist has examined you, he or she will discuss treatment options and the pros and cons of radiation treatment for you. A radiation therapy nurse will also be there to help explain treatment, discuss how often radiation therapy is given for lung cancer, and provide information on how to take care of yourself during treatment.

Since radiation therapy for lung cancer requires utmost precision, you’ll also go through a simulation at the MRO Therapy Center.  Using image mapping as a guide, your care team will position you as you would be for treatment and take measurements to build a targeted treatment plan and pinpoint the radiation for the best possible outcome.

For questions to ask your provider, see our FAQ page.

WHAT TO EXPECT VIDEO

“I’ve spent over 30 years helping my patients understand their unique situations and treatment options. I’m proud that I’ve been able to take part in research efforts that have helped expand diagnoses and treatment options and helped expand patient access to new treatment options.”
Richard F. Diaz M.D
MRO | Southdale

We make treatment as easy as possible, so you can get back to living your life

Radiation therapy for lung cancer is often given daily, Monday through Friday, for about six weeks. At MRO, your treatment schedule will be specifically tailored to you, at the clinic that is most convenient for you. Your own treatment will depend on the type of tumor you have, where it’s located, and what type of technology we’ll be using. You’ll also meet with your physician each week to monitor progress, and touch base with your nurse, who can answer any questions you may have.

Managing side effects of radiation therapy for lung cancer

Some side effects of lung cancer treatment can be significant. Usually these symptoms are minor compared with those caused by a lung tumor, but they can affect your quality of life.

The risk of side effects must be balanced against the risks of not using radiation and having less control of the tumor. Common side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Skin changes in the area being treated, ranging from mild redness to blistering and peeling
  • Hair loss where the radiation enters the body
  • Cough, problems breathing, and shortness of breath
  • Sore throat and trouble swallowing during treatment

Often these side effects go away after treatment. When radiation is used along with chemotherapy, the side effects may be worse.

Managing long-term side effects of radiation therapy for lung cancer

Long-term side effects may also occur following radiation therapy. Since some of these may not begin for weeks – or even years – after your treatments are completed, it’s important to be aware of these and talk to your doctor if you have any symptoms.

Radiation pneumonitis is an inflammatory response of the lungs, which can occur soon after the completion of radiation treatments. Symptoms include a fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Often a short course of steroids is effective and most of the time the condition resolves quickly.

Pulmonary fibrosis is the formation of scar tissue in the lungs. Symptoms include shortness of breath and a decreased ability to exercise.

Radiation therapy in your chest can affect your heart in several different ways, most commonly in damage to the heart muscle if the targeted region is nearby. Radiation therapy can also increase your risk of coronary artery disease, valve disease, or abnormal heart rhythms.

Risk of secondary tumors
Radiation can damage genes in normal cells. As a result, there is a very small risk of developing a second cancer in an area that received radiation.

How to care for yourself during treatment

Living with lung cancer is all about finding the quality of life that suits you best. At MRO, we understand that there’s more to recovery than medical treatment. And while radiation therapy itself may be painless, it impacts your body in ways that you can’t always see. In order to keep your body strong, we encourage you to be active in caring for yourself. Here’s a list of things you can do to get the most out of life during your treatment:

  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat a healthy diet.

  • Listen to your body. Don’t push yourself too hard, and rest when you’re tired. You will probably be sleeping more than normal, and that’s okay.

  • Be kind to the skin near your treatment area. Wash the area with mild soap and water, and do not put hot or cold packs on the skin. Contact your MRO care team before using lotions or ointments.

  • Find a support group or seek out help to manage the stress that comes with cancer treatment and a cancer diagnosis.

  • Make sure to tell your doctor about any medicines or supplements you take to ensure they are safe to use during treatment.

  • Follow your doctor’s orders and contact your MRO care team with any questions.

Life after treatment

After you’ve completed treatment, you’ll have follow-up visits with your MRO radiation oncologist and the doctor who referred you to MRO, especially in the first few months after treatment, to make sure there is no progression or recurrence. During this time, it’s important to report any new symptoms to your doctor right away, so the cause can be found and treated.

Follow-up care for lung cancer varies from patient to patient. Your physician may also recommend home care, occupational or vocational therapy, pain management, physical therapy and participation in support groups.

For more information, visit our resources page.