Types of radiotherapy
Radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer is usually image guided radiotherapy (IGRT). IGRT involves taking images before and sometimes during treatment to help make sure it is delivered as accurately as possible.
The most common types of radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer in the UK are:
- 3D conformal radiotherapy
- intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)
- volumetric modulated arc radiotherapy (VMAT) or rapid arc
Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) is a newer type of radiotherapy. It’s not routinely available for pancreatic cancer on the NHS, but it may be available as part of a clinical trial.
3D conformal radiotherapy shapes the radiation beam to the cancer. The aim is to give a high dose of radiotherapy to the cancer, and reduce the dose to normal healthy cells.
IMRT shapes the radiation beam very closely to the cancer. It uses a minimum of five radiation beams that are arranged at different angles. The beams are arranged so that the tumour gets the maximum amount of radiation, while avoiding the normal tissues.
Volumetric modulated radiotherapy (VMAT) is a type of IMRT. It focuses the radiation on the cancer, and reduces the time each treatment takes. It normally involves one single beam of radiation, sometimes more. The machine will move around you in a circle. It may help to reduce the risk of side effects by reducing the amount of radiation to the surrounding organs.
Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) is a newer type of radiotherapy. It’s also known as stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT). You may have heard of Cyberknife®, which is a type of SABR. SABR is not routinely available for pancreatic cancer on the NHS, but it may be available as part of a clinical trial.
SABR delivers a higher dose of radiotherapy during each treatment. Because the dose is higher, you will usually only need three to five treatments over one to two weeks. Each treatment session will take longer than other types of radiotherapy.
Some research has suggested that SABR may be effective in helping to control pancreatic cancer. But there is no evidence to show that it is more effective than other types of radiotherapy. It may be more convenient because you will need fewer treatments. But there is a risk of damage to the stomach or bowel from the high dose of radiation, which could cause side effects. We need more research into SABR for pancreatic cancer to better understand how well it works.
Speak to your doctor about whether SABR might be suitable for you, and if there are any clinical trials you can take part in.
Clinical trials are medical research studies that involve patients.
There are clinical trials looking at whether different types of radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy before surgery could help improve the results of the surgery. For example, shrinking the cancer before surgery could make it easier to remove all the cancer cells.
There are also some clinical trials looking at whether radiotherapy or chemotherapy before surgery may be helpful for people with borderline resectable pancreatic cancer.
You could talk to your doctor about any clinical trials involving radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy that might be suitable for you. We also have information about current clinical trials. And you can talk to our specialist nurses about clinical trials on our free Support Line.
Published July 2017
Review date July 2019