Radiation oncology is a form of cancer treatment that targets energy waves at cancer cells to damage or destroy them. It can also be helpful in relieving pain. Radiation is not always used in treating liver cancer, because healthy liver tissue is highly susceptible to radiation damage. Moreover, metastatic liver tumors are often resistant to radiation. When radiation therapy is used on liver tumors, it's usually in conjunction with surgery. Radiation therapy is a more effective and less risky option for cancers of the bile duct or gallbladder.
There are two types of radiation therapy: external and internal. External radiation involves pointing a machine called a linear accelerator at a specific area of the body to deliver radiation to the tumor. Patients will usually receive external radiation treatments five days a week for several weeks. In internal radiation, also called brachytherapy, radioactive materials are delivered directly into the tumor.
Emory is also performing a novel radiation treatment called stereotactic body radiation. This treatment used to be restricted to brain tumors, because it required screwing a rigid frame in place around the skull. But because of recent technological advances, Emory doctors are now able to use this highly effective targeted therapy on tumors of the liver.