Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), also known as stereotactic ablative radiotherapy, is an advanced type of radiation therapy. SBRT delivers very high doses of radiation to precisely target the tumor by using several beams of various intensities aimed at different angles. Because of its precision, SBRT can preserve surrounding healthy tissue, which is important for patients who have tumors that are near, or in, essential organs. 

How Does Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy Work?

Stereotactic body radiation works similarly to other forms of radiation treatment. SBRT does not actually remove the tumor, but rather causes it to shrink. By damaging the cells of the tumor, it becomes unable to grow. Malignant and metastatic tumors may shrink more rapidly, even within a couple of months.

SBRT treatment requires specific, 3D-imaging technology. This imaging is used to locate the tumor within the body and define the exact size and shape as well as guide the treatment plan and positioning of the patient for treatment. SBRT treatment is delivered with a linear accelerator.

SBRT may be used to deliver a single high dose of radiation, or several separate radiation doses (usually up to five treatments over a period of days).

Benefits of Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy

  • Non-surgical, non-invasive, and painless
  • Ideal for hard-to-reach tumors as well as those that are close to critical organs
  • Less treatment time compared to traditional radiation regimen
  • Performed in an outpatient setting at one of our Compass locations 

Examples of SBRT Uses for Cancer Treatment

SBRT is often appropriate for the treatment of small, well-defined lung cancer tumors. However, SBRT can be used to treat cancerous tumors all over the body, including: 

  • Spinal tumors 
  • Head and neck cancers
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Soft-tissue cancers

What are the Side Effects of Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy?

Even though SBRT directs higher levels of radiation to the cancer, it causes less damage to surrounding healthy cells since it is delivered at a limited area of the body. 

Various types of cancer are treated with stereotactic body radiation therapy. The side effects differ according to the area being treated. Although most of these side effects are short term, some long-term issues are a possibility, particularly when SBRT is used on the head or neck. 

Short Term Side Effects

The side effects of SBRT are usually mild and short-lived. They include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling or soreness at or near the treatment site
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bladder and urinary changes

Long Term Side Effects

In rare instances, more long-term or late side effects may occur. Sometimes, these side effects appear months or even years after the SBRT treatment ends. Because of this, patients are advised to be vigilant long after they initially heal. Long term side effects include changes to:

  • Brain
  • Spinal cord
  • Lungs
  • Kidneys
  • Bone health
  • Reproduction systems

It is important to understand that new issues can occur long after cancer treatment ends. Patients should contact their cancer care team if they notice problems in the treatment area or other general health problems. Overall, SBRT produces fewer side effects than traditional radiation treatments.