Learn more about stereotactic body radiation therapy

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. It accounts for one in five cancer-related deaths. Early detection and treatment can help save lives.

According to Ryan Levy, MD, stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) is a breakthrough treatment for lung cancer. It’s used for people who are not candidates for surgery.

“Not every patient will be a candidate for lung surgery,” explains Dr. Levy, a thoracic surgeon at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at UPMC Passavant. “But we still want to have great cure rates and offer an optimal treatment plan for those whose lung function won’t permit an operation.”

Dr. Levy is also co-chief of Thoracic and Foregut Surgery at UPMC and chief of Thoracic Surgery at UPMC Passavant.

SBRT can also treat small, early-stage pancreatic cancer or cancers that have spread to the liver, adrenal gland, or spine.

Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy: How It Works

SBRT precisely targets cancerous or benign tumors in a person’s lungs. It uses a focused radiation beam that causes minimal damage to the normal lung tissue. The main goal of treatment is to prevent tumors from growing.

“Imagine a bicycle wheel,” explains Heath Skinner, MD, PhD, chair and medical director, Department of Radiation Oncology, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

“In the center of the wheel you have the hub — where the energy beam is focused. Around the hub are many spokes. The spokes are a lower dose of radiation which serves to minimize radiation going to areas where it’s not needed.”

The treatment consists of three to five sessions. Sessions occur over 10 to 15 days. It has a complication rate of less than 5%.

Tumors that are not cancerous, also known as benign tumors, can shrink for up to two years after the procedures. It takes only a few months for cancerous tumors to shrink after the sessions.

Dr. Levy and his radiation oncology colleagues Kiran Mehta, MD, and Hima Bindu Musunuru, MD, continue the SBRT program, which began several years ago at UPMC Passavant. These doctors have since successfully treated more than 225 people with SBRT.

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Benefits of Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy

SBRT gives experts greater access to tumors in hard-to-reach areas of the body. But this treatment also provides benefits to the person getting treatment, including:

  • Fewer treatments (less than five).
  • Less risk. Since the treatment is noninvasive, most people have fewer side effects.
  • Less radiation damage to healthy tissue and organs.
  • No anesthesia or incisions.

SBRT Side Effects

SBRT presents some side effects that are typically short-term. They may include:

  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Skin changes, like becoming irritated or dry.

Long-term side effects are rare but can still happen months or even years after treatment. They may include:

  • Secondary cancer.
  • Changes in the lungs or spinal cord.
  • Changes in your bladder or bowel.
  • Swollen arms and legs, also known as lymphedema.
  • Weakened bones.

Lung Cancer Fast Facts

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men (after prostate cancer) and women (after breast cancer). Lung cancer is more deadly than colon, breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancer combined.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 238,340 new lung cancer cases this year. About 117,550 in men and 120,790 in women. About 127,070 people will die from lung cancer in 2023 (67,160 in men and 59,910 in women).

Most people diagnosed with lung cancer are older, aged 65 or above. Lung cancer rarely affects those younger than 45.

The key to surviving lung cancer is early detection before the cancer progresses in stages. For those who are eligible, UPMC offers low-dose CT scans to screen for early-stage lung cancers.

Learn more about world-class care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

Lung Cancer Statistics | How Common is Lung Cancer?

Stereotactic body radiotherapy - Type - Mayo Clinic

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.