About Penn Services

The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: May 2, 2011

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About Penn's Department of Radiation Oncology

Penn's Radiation Oncology Program offers state-of-the-art evaluation, treatment and follow-up care for patients requiring radiation therapy as part of their cancer treatment.

Penn's Department of Radiation Oncology is a national leader in the development of advanced treatment approaches. We were one of the first in the nation, for example, to use a new technique that targets radiation precisely to a tumor site while sparing normal tissue.

Our radiation oncologists are experts in cancer treatment and research, and have contributed to many important advances in the field. This means that when treated by Penn physicians, you will benefit from their expertise in treating your type of cancer. Our patient care service is backed by a major research and teaching program. Our department is conducting basic research to better understand tumor response to radiation, thus enabling us to develop new treatment approaches. We also conduct a wide range of clinical trials involving the innovative use of radiation therapy in combination with other therapies in order to find better ways to treat patients with different types of cancer. This means that our patients have access to the latest research and advances, often before the research findings are published in medical journals. And, because we understand the emotional implications of cancer, we also provide support services to help patients and their families throughout their cancer experience.

About the Ruth and Raymond Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine

The Ruth and Raymond Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine is state-of-the art outpatient facility created to provide an ideal environment for patient-focused care and collaboration among health professionals. Adjacent to the Hospital of the University Pennsylvania, the Perelman Center provides access to several Penn Medicine clinical services and programs including Penn's Department of Radiation Oncology and the Abramson Cancer Center. For more information, visit PennMedicine.org/perelman.

What Sets Penn's Program Apart?

  • The largest radiation therapy service in the region, and one of the largest in the country.
  • Eight Penn radiation oncology facilities are conveniently located throughout the Greater Delaware Valley.
  • Each Penn radiation oncologist specializes in treating certain cancers and is also involved in conducting research for those cancers.
  • Penn's Department of Radiation Oncology is one of the top recipients of the National Institutes of Health research grant funding.
  • Penn's Radiation Biology Research Program, directed by Stephen Hahn, MD, Chair of Radiation Oncology and Wafik S. El-Deiry, MD, PhD, is approved by the National Cancer Institute.
  • Penn radiation oncologists collaborate actively with other physicians on your medical team, including surgeons and medical oncologists, resulting in the best possible care.
  • Patient education and support are a priority of the Department, which has a dedicated radiation oncology social worker and extensive patient educational materials.

About the Abramson Cancer Center

The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania is one of a select group of cancer centers in the country awarded the prestigious designation of Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute. This status reflects our outstanding research, clinical services, education and information services and community outreach.

The Cancer Center is comprised of over 400 full-time faculty, all of whom are dedicated to increasing knowledge concerning preventing and curing cancer. Penn's Cancer Center offers multidisciplinary evaluation, so patients can receive diagnosis and treatment options quickly and easily, as well as comprehensive treatment services for all types of cancer. As part of Penn Medicine, we are able to build upon the resources of one of the nation's foremost medical centers and can address all of our patients' medical needs. We are committed to treating each patient as our only patient, while pursuing our understanding of, and ability to fight cancer. The Cancer Center's NCI-designated pediatric oncology research program, whose aim is to improve the chances for cure in children with cancer while minimizing adverse effects, is one of the foremost program's in the country.

About the Cancer Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Housed within one of the nation's leading children's hospitals, The Cancer Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia treats more children with cancer than any other general pediatric hospital in the U.S.

We provide patients and families access to the most innovative, successful treatments for all types of childhood cancer and newest, most advanced research. We have one of the largest pediatric cancer research programs in the United States, where scientific advances are translated quickly into clinical therapies.

Some of the world's most distinguished pediatric oncologists lead the Center, with specific expertise in every area of childhood cancer. Our programs include:

  • One of the largest pediatric blood and marrow transplantation (BMT) programs in the U.S.
  • One of the largest brain tumor centers in the country.
  • A world renowned neuroblastoma program.
  • Radiation therapies specifically tailored to the needs of pediatric patients.
  • The nation's first pediatric survivorship program, to monitor for late effects and promote lifelong health after cancer.
  • The only dedicated pediatric positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) scanner in the Northeastern U.S., a highly useful tool in detecting many cancers and measuring treatment responses.
  • The nation's only Pediatric Cancer Predisposition Program, providing care and counseling for children at risk for hereditary cancers.
  • One of the most comprehensive palliative care programs in the U.S.
  • A large and comprehensive research program focused on improving outcomes for children with cancer.

We care for our patients in a compassionate, family-centered environment, focused on the well-being of the entire child and offering extensive support for the family.

Types of Radiation Treatment Offered at Penn's Radiation Oncology Department

External radiation (or external beam radiation) comes from a machine outside the body. The machine directs high-energy rays at the cancer and some normal surrounding tissue. It is the most often used radiation treatment. The machine used to deliver the high-energy rays is called a linear accelerator.

Three-dimensional (3-D) conformal radiation treatment is a type of external beam radiation. It uses computers to allow doctors to more precisely target a tumor with radiation beams (using width, height, and depth).

Intensity-modulated radiation treatment (IMRT) is a type of 3-D conformal radiation treatment that uses radiation beams (usually x-rays) of various intensities to give different doses of radiation, at the same time, to small areas of tissue. This allows the delivery of higher doses of radiation to the tumor and lower doses to nearby healthy tissue.

Internal radiation treatment, or brachytherapy, is given by placing an implant into or near the tumor. The implant is a small container that holds the radioactive source or material. Internal radiation treatment allows your doctor to give a higher total dose of radiation to a smaller area and in a shorter time than with external radiation treatment.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) combines a drug called a photosensitizer or photosensitizing agent with a specific type of light to kill cancer cells. Photosensitizers are drugs that when exposed to a specific wavelength of light, produce a form of oxygen that kills nearby cells. PDT can also work by shrinking or destroy tumors by damaging blood vessels in the tumor. This prevents the cancer from receiving nutrients. Also, PDT may activate the immune system to attack the tumor cells.

Stereotactic radiosurgery uses a large dose of radiation to destroy tumor tissue in the brain. The procedure does not involve actual surgery. The patient's head is placed in a special frame, which is attached to the patient' skull. The frame is used to aim high-dose radiation beams directly at the tumor inside the patient's head. The dose and area receiving the radiation are coordinated very precisely.

The Future of Radiation Therapy at Penn —The Roberts Proton Therapy Center

Proton therapy is a kind of external beam radiotherapy where protons are directed at a the tumor. Proton therapy is so effective because of its ability to accurately target and kill tumors, both near the surface and deep seated within the body, while minimizing damage to the surrounding tissues.

For this reason, it is favored for treating certain kinds of tumors where conventional X-ray and radiation treatment would damage surrounding tissues.

This is especially a problem around optical nerves, the spinal cord/central nervous system, head and neck areas, and the prostate.

Proton therapy may be used for the following cancers:

  • Head and neck cancers
  • Prostate cancer
  • Brain and spinal tumors
  • Lung cancer
  • Gastrointestinal cancers
  • Cancers that cannot be removed completely by surgery
  • Pediatric cancers

See all articles: Radiation Treatment: A Parent's Guide

Download full Radiation Treatment: A Parent's Guide [PDF]


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