Programs and research
Looking to the future of radiation therapy
Important discoveries have improved today’s radiation therapy options. They’ve helped improve treatment and make it easier for patients.
Though we offer the best available technologies, we look to make things even better for future patients through active research. Our team is involved in many clinical trials to discover new and improved ways to deliver radiation therapies and reduce side effects. As a patient at UW Health, you might have access to these trials.
Learn more about clinical trials at UW Health
Comprehensive Radiopharmaceutical Therapy Center of Excellence
UW Health is a Comprehensive Radiopharmaceutical Therapy Center of Excellence. This designation is awarded through the Society of Nuclear Medicine & Molecular Imaging. We are proud to provide high-quality radiopharmaceutical therapy to our patients administered by physicians trained in nuclear medicine.
Opening in 2024, Eastpark Medical Center will offer state-of-the-art cancer care all in one place, including radiation therapy available no where else in the U.S. With multiple specialists and services under one roof, patients can receive the personalized care they expect in a facility designed just for them.
Conditions and treatments
Treatment tailored to your needs and goals
Treatment is offered through the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center, Wisconsin’s only comprehensive cancer center. Along with offering the latest technology and innovative therapies, we provide a caring team that’s focused on you and your family. We make your treatment as easy, safe and effective as possible.
Cancers we treat
Radiation oncology uses high-energy beams such as X-rays and charged particles to treat cancer. We sometimes give this treatment alone. Other times, we combine it with surgery and/or chemotherapy.
We are also one of the leaders in brachytherapy, a radiation source inside the body close to your tumor.
Radiation can be helpful with many types of cancer, including:
Head and neck cancer
Radiation also can be helpful with metastatic cancer, cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
We offer several different types of radiation therapy as well as different forms of treatment within each type.
With the opening of the Eastpark Medical Center in 2024, the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center will be one of the few select health systems in the country to offer proton therapy. And, in collaboration with Leo Cancer Care, we will be the only health system to offer upright proton therapy. Proton beam therapy offers fewer side effects and more accurately targets the area to be treated, even for hard-to-reach tumors that may be close to vital organs and tissue. Upright proton therapy will enable the treatment to be delivered to patients as they are sitting, offering better comfort, while enabling even greater accuracy.
Radiation therapy can be used for many types of cancer. Doctors may use it to:
Help your cancer go away completely
Lower the risk of your cancer returning or spreading elsewhere in your body
Reduce symptoms of advanced cancer
Shrink a tumor before you have surgery
Treat cancer that has returned
This treatment involves placing a radiation source inside the body close to your tumor. Sometimes we leave the radiation source for a short time and then remove it. Other times it remains in your body. We offer:
Accelerated partial breast irradiation
Cervical cancer brachytherapy
Lung mesh brachytherapy
Melanoma eye plaque
Prostate seed implantation
Vaginal cuff brachytherapy (uterine cancer)
This treatment delivers X-ray beams to a tumor from outside your body. Types of external beam radiation include:
3D conformal radiation therapy
Fractionated stereotactic radiation therapy
Image-guided radiation therapy
Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
Pulsed reduced-dose rate radiation therapy
Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)
Total body irradiation
Whole-brain radiation therapy
In this treatment, radiation is delivered intravenously with drugs or special beads that target cancer tissue.
Powerful, personalized care
Radiation therapy is offered at several UW Health locations. Our providers often work with other specialists who focus on specific types of cancer within our cancer clinics.
Meet our team
At your side, helping you fight
Doctors with expertise in your type of cancer will oversee your care. They plan and implement your treatment with a team of specialists, including radiation physicists and dosimetrists. They help calculate the precise dose of your treatment and ensure your safety.
Others who may take part in your care include radiation therapists who provide your treatments, nurses and physician assistants. Other experts, such as physical therapists, dentists, nutritionists and speech and swallow therapists are often brought in to help manage your own radiation treatment care needs.
UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center
The experts at the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center intimately understand every type of cancer. We will get to know you and design a treatment plan that works for you and your family.
Patient and support services
Understanding and preparing for your treatment
Are you thinking about radiation therapy for your cancer? These resources might help answer some of your questions.
About radiation therapy
Health Facts for You about radiation therapy:
- A patient’s guide to stereotactic body radiation therapy
- Home care after stereotactic radiosurgery
- Pulsed reduced dose rate radiotherapy
- Radiation therapy discharge guidelines
- Skin reactions from radiation treatments
- Stereotactic radiosurgery: A patient’s guide
- Total body irradiation
- Use of hydrogel for radiotherapy patients
Frequently asked questions
Find answers to frequently asked questions about radiation therapy in the following Health Facts for You:
What to expect: Before treatment
Radiation oncologists from the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center put together the following information to help you better understand the radiation treatment process.
Before deciding if you would like to receive radiation therapy treatments, you must first meet with a radiation oncologist to help decide if radiation therapy is right for you.
During your consult, you will first meet with a nurse. The nurse will take you into an exam room to record your weight, vital signs, medications, and allergies.
Next you will meet with the doctors - typically a radiation oncology resident and radiation oncologist will meet with you. They will examine you and ask you questions. You may be asked about your current medical problems, past medical history, past surgical history, medications, and lifestyle.
Treatment options, as well as the benefits and risks of these options, will be discussed with you. If radiation therapy treatments are indicated, the doctors will talk to you about treatment plans. If you decide that radiation therapy is right for you, you will be scheduled for a planning CT scans and/or simulation.
Other staff members you may meet during your consult visit are: medical students, radiation therapy students, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and research associates.
In order for the radiation beams to be effective, they must be aimed at the same target for each treatment. The process of measuring your body and marking your skin to help your team direct the beams is called a simulation or treatment planning CT scan.
During a simulation or treatment planning CT scan, you will be positioned on the table the same way you will be for treatment. Because positioning is so important for your treatment, you may have a special mask or mold made. The radiation therapists will mark the area on your body that the doctor wants to be treated with radiation therapy and take X-ray images of the area. Depending on the area treated, your physician may request that you receive IV contrast or barium to drink.
Contrast is used to highlight organs so that they can be seen on X-ray or CT images. After your X-rays or CT scans are completed the radiation therapist will mark your skin with a set of small, permanent tattoos. The tattoos will be used to position you each day for your radiation treatments.
Once you have finished with your treatment planning CT or simulation, your radiation oncologist and other members of the treatment team review the information. Tumors are not regular - they come in different shapes and sizes. To design the radiation therapy to the size, shape and location of your tumor, your treatment team (radiation oncologists, residents, medical physicists and dosimetrists) uses computers and your treatment planning images to plan your treatment.
Depending on the complexity of your treatment, this step can take anywhere from two days to two weeks. After reviewing all of your information and your treatment plan, your doctor will write a prescription that outlines exactly how much radiation you will receive and what parts of your body will receive the radiation.
What to expect: During and after treatment
The radiation therapist will give your treatment following your radiation oncologist’s instructions. The first day of treatment will take approximately 45 minutes. After the first day, your treatments will take approximately 15-30 minutes. The radiation therapists will help you lie down on the table in the same position you were in for the treatment planning CT or simulation. They will be using the tattoos that were placed on your skin during your treatment planning appointment to help position you and may make shifts according to your treatment plan.
Once you are positioned, the radiation therapist will take X-rays (also called port films). Port films are taken on the first day of treatment and once a week. The port films are used to check your positioning and do not show if any disease is present. After your doctor reviews the port films, you will receive the first treatment. During the port films and your treatments, the therapists will step out of the room. They are closely monitoring you on a television screen while giving your radiation.
There is a microphone in the treatment room so you can always talk with the therapist if you have any concerns. The machine can be stopped at any time if you are feeling sick or uncomfortable. During your treatment, the therapist might move the treatment machine or treatment table. The machine might make noises during treatment that sound like clicking, knocking or whirring, but the radiation therapist is in complete control of the machine at all times.
During radiation therapy, your radiation oncologist and nurse will see you regularly to follow your progress, evaluate any side effects and address any concerns you have. You might want to bring a family member or friend with you to these appointments.
After treatment is completed, follow-up appointments will be scheduled so your radiation oncologist can make sure your recovery is proceeding normally and can continue to monitor your health. Your doctor could order labs, X-rays or other diagnostic tests.
As time goes by, the number of times you need to visit your radiation oncologist will decrease. However, please know that your radiation oncology team will always be available if you need to speak to someone about your treatment.
Questions to ask
Here are some questions that can be helpful to ask your radiation oncologist during the different phases of treatment:
What type and stage of cancer do I have?
What is the purpose of radiation treatment for my type of cancer?
How will the radiation therapy be given? What do the treatments feel like?
How many weeks will I receive radiation? How many treatments will I receive per week?
How long does each treatment take?
What are the chances that radiation therapy will work?
What is a clinical trial? Can I participate in a clinical trial? Do I have to be on a clinical trial?
What is the chance that the cancer will spread or come back if I do not have radiation therapy?
Will I need chemotherapy, surgery or other treatments? If so, in what order will I receive these treatments?
What are some of the support groups I can turn to during treatment?
If I have questions after I leave here who can I call?
Will radiation therapy affect my ability to have children?
Do you take my insurance?
Can I get a second opinion?
Do all patients have similar side effects?
How often will I see my radiation oncologist while I am receiving radiation therapy?
How can I expect to feel during treatment and in the weeks following radiation therapy?
Can I drive myself to and from the treatment facility? Is their transportation assistance available?
Will I be able to continue my normal activities?
What side effects may occur from the radiation and how are they managed?
Do I need a special diet during or after my treatment?
Can I exercise?
Can I have sex?
Can I smoke or drink alcohol?
Can I go out in the sun?
What types of lotions or soaps can I use?
Is it safe to take vitamins during treatment?
Who can I contact if I have problems after clinic hours?
How and when will you know if I am cured of cancer?
What are the chances that the cancer will come back?
How soon can I go back to my regular activities?
How often do I need to return for checkups?
The following Health Facts for You explain the role of radiation therapy during breast cancer treatments:
The following Health Facts for You explain brachytherapy in the treatment of certain cancers:
Organ-specific radiation therapies
The following Health Facts for You explain how radiation therapy is used in the treatment of specific organs:
- Radiation therapy to the abdomen
- Radiation therapy for the arms or legs
- Radiation therapy to the brain
- Radiation therapy to the central chest
- Radiation therapy to the chest wall
- Radiation therapy to the head and neck area
- Radiation therapy to the pelvis
- Radiation therapy to the spine
- Preparing for high dose rate prostate radiation
- Prostate seed implantation
Health Facts for You to help with treatment planning:
Learn more about cancer care at UW Health.