Targeting Cancer with Radiation Therapy

“There are many misconceptions about radiation therapy, but it is an important component of treatment for many cancer patients,” says Dr. Kara Schnarr, Radiation Oncologist at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre.

Dr. Kara Schnarr holding a custom-moulded mask.

Dr. Kara Schnarr with custom-moulded mask.

Approximately 4,500 new radiation therapy cases are treated annually at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre, which provides specialized cancer treatment for adult and pediatric patients from communities throughout south-central Ontario.

How it works

“Radiation therapy uses beams of high-energy photons to target cancer cells,” explains Dr. Schnarr. “Cancer cells are unable to repair themselves as easily as normal cells. Radiation is used to damage the DNA of these cells with the goal of eventually destroying them.”

When treating the head and neck, custom-moulded masks keep the patient motionless to ensure that the radiation beam is targeted precisely.

“I have the privilege of walking alongside patients and families.”

Side effects

“Side effects vary greatly according to different factors, such as where the beam is directed and the dose of radiation delivered. For example, the use of radiation to treat brain cancers may cause hair loss, whereas the use of radiation to treat cancer that is close to the skin’s surface may cause skin redness. Fatigue is the most common overall side effect, but even this varies between patients.”

Working with patients

Dr. Schnarr works closely with patients so they understand the benefits and potential side effects of radiation therapy in the overall treatment plan.

“I have the privilege of walking alongside patients and families during their cancer journey,” she says. “I find it very rewarding to know that I can make a difference in their lives.”