Tomotherapy and Halcyon - 2 Types of Radiation

by Jane Ashley

When most people think of cancer treatment, they think of chemotherapy as the treatment. Many people don’t even realize that radiation is one of the “three legs of the stool” when it comes to treating cancer. 

Tomo Therpay With Patient

The three legs are:
• Chemotherapy and other medications
• Radiation
• Surgery

At least half of all cancer patients receive radiotherapy as their primary treatment or radiation as part of their treatment. Radiation may be part of a cure or can be used as a palliative treatment to alleviate pain.

There are two newer types of radiation that are not only effective but may lessen side effects and late-effect side effects. These newer types of radiation are not available at every radiation treatment center yet because they are newer, but it’s good to know about them to know your options.


Although available since 2002, many cancer patients are not familiar with particular type of radiation. TomoTherapy delivers IG-IMRT (image-guided, intensity-modulated radiation therapy). Intensity-modulated means the intensity of the radiation can be modified to effectively treat the target tumor or lymph nodes while sparing normal tissue to minimize side effects to healthy surrounding tissue.

TomoTherapy provides an integrated CT scanner used to perform a daily image before treatment to ensure accurate patient positioning. Positioning from the daily scan helps ensure accurate radiation delivery as the tumor changes shape or if the patient loses or gains weight.
This precise positioning allows patients who have received previous radiation to an area to have radiation again if their cancer returns.
TomoTherapy is not only used to treat routine tumors in straight-forward breast and prostate cancer, but it also helps in complex cancer situations. 

Here are just a few of TomoTherapy’s capabilities:

• Brain tumors, both benign and cancerous
• Breast cancer, including inflammatory breast cancer
• Colorectal and anal cancer
• Cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulva cancers
• Esophageal and upper gastrointestinal cancers
• Head, neck and oral cancers
• Lung cancer and benign lung tumors
• Pancreatic and liver cancers
• Prostate cancer, including advanced disease
• Skin cancers

TomoTherapy is used in pre-transplant treatment for blood diseases, such as leukemia.

TomoTherapy is not available at every cancer center in the U.S. Click here to find a location near you.


Halcyon is a new IMRT (image-guided volumetric intensity-modulated radiotherapy) system designed to deliver radiation treatments much more quickly. That might not sound like a significant improvement, but for patients who have to have daily radiation treatments for 4-to-6 weeks, more straight-forward setup and quicker bursts of radiation help radiation treatments be less stressful for patients. Some treatment sessions only require 2 minutes.

The gantry (the part of the machine that rotates around the patient as the radiation is delivered) is four times faster. Why does this matter? It virtually eliminates “breath-holding” for breast, esophageal, and lung cancer treatments.

Varian Halcyon Cam1 Left 45 Low Angle Full Res Final02 Web

The Halcyon system requires less room for installation. Installation is complete within two weeks or less. The staff receives training onsite, helping employees feel comfortable within their hospital facility.

Patient comfort hasn’t been forgotten either. The patient couch can be lowered for easy patient access. The motors moving the patient couch and gantry are virtually silent and operate smoothly, easing patient apprehension. An integrated intercom system allows immediate communication between the patient and the radiation therapist.

To see if a Halcyon system is located near you, click here to search the map.

WhatNext for patients?

These are newer systems that deliver the same radiation as older model radiation equipment. While they offer advantages, in particular to a patient who has a complex diagnosis, patients need not fret if the “latest and greatest” radiation equipment is not available near you. Older equipment gets updated regularly to ensure safe and effective treatment for almost all cancer treatment circumstances.

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