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By Ackerman Cancer Center


Sparing Healthy Tissue in Brain Radiation Treatment

For patients diagnosed with metastatic brain tumors, whole brain radiation has been the standard of care to treat the cancer. However, because whole brain radiation can cause side effects to the brain, especially the decline of an individual’s mental function, other ways to treat the tumors have been researched and used. Overall, the goal is to improve the quality of life during and after cancer treatment.

When dealing with metastatic brain tumors, one area of the brain that can be attributed to the decline in mental function and brain side effects is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a very important part of the brain that is believed to be the center of emotion and memory. It is sensitive to radiation, and thus sparing from unnecessary radiation is extremely important. Patients have a few options to choose from when considering radiation for their brain tumor:

  • Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) is a form of external radiation that is given in a single high dose. It allows for a more targeted approach and has fewer side effects in relation to conventional radiation treatment. It is used to treat more localized tumors, but does not replace the need for whole brain radiation when multiple metastases are present or when there is a need to use preventative treatment.
  • Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) and Volumetric-Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT) are two other forms of radiation that can also spare healthy tissue when an individual goes through cancer treatment.
  • A third form of treatment, and possibly the most advanced, is Intensity-Modulated Proton Therapy (IMPT). With this type of therapy, whole brain radiation can still be conducted, but the amount of radiation that healthy tissue is exposed to is reduced. Recently, the Mayo Clinic conducted a study comparing the use of VMAT to IMPT and reported that the radiation dose to the hippocampus was reduced by 62% using the IMPT technique.

Ackerman Cancer Center is proud to offer a variety of cancer treatment options for patients with brain tumors, including SRS, IMRT, VMAT, and Proton Therapy.

Robert Tokarz, MS, DABR


1. https://physicsworld.com/a/intensity-modulated-protons-reduce-side-effects-of-whole-brain-radiotherapy/

2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405631618300575

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3656558/

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