Maximum Radiation in a Lifetime

Last Modified: January 22, 2006


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

Can you tell me if there is a maximum for the amount of radiation you can get in your lifetime? My brother has brain cancer (glioblastoma) which was removed, and the doctors think they got it all. He just finished radiation treatment #22 of 35. I was just wondering if they did not get it all, or if it re-occurs, can he have surgery again with more radiation treatments?


Robert Lustig MD FACR, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Each organ of the body has a different limit on the amount of radiation it may receive in a lifetime. This depends on a few factors, including whether the whole organ was irradiated or only a portion of it, and the total dose of radiation given (which is measured in units called Grays). For glioblastoma of the brain, it is often possible to surgically resect all of the visible tumor, but there is usually microscopic disease left behind. Glioblastoma is generally treated after surgery with radiation and concurrent chemotherapy . If the tumor recurs, an alternate form of radiation may be used besides standard external beam radiation, such as highly focused radiation (Gamma knife or stereotactic radiation), radiation implants, or radio-isotopes attached to monoclonal antibodies.