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National Cancer Prevention Month- Evolution of Radiation Therapy

IN THE BEGINNING
In 1896, a German physics professor by the name of Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen presented a lecture on a new kind of “ray.” This ray, named “x-ray” caused immediate worldwide excitement and within three years, radiation was being used to treat cancer. Roentgen went on to receive the first Nobel Prize in physics and paved the way for other scientists and physicists in the search for the cure to cancer. In 1901, France made a major breakthrough when it was discovered that a daily dose of radiation over several weeks greatly improved the patient’s chance for survival. Since then, the methods and machines used to deliver radiation therapy have steadily improved.

AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY
Shortly after radiation began to be used for diagnosis and therapy, it was discovered that radiation could cause cancer as well as cure it. Many radiologists would use the skin of their arms to test the strength of radiation from their machines, looking for a dose that would produce a sunburn like reaction. Some of the radiologists from the early 20th century were later diagnosed with leukemia from regularly exposing themselves to radiation.

ADVANCEMENTS IN TIME AND TECHNOLOGY
During the last quarter of the 20th century, advances in radiation physics and computer technology made it possible to aim radiation more precisely. CT and CRT images were used to precisely map out the location of the cancer and plastic molds were fitted onto the patients to keep the body still for treatment. Radiation beams were matched to the shape of the tumor and delivered to the tumor from several directions, keeping the beams centered and away from non affected areas.

PRESENT DAY
Important progress was made in radiotherapy by the end of the 1990’s with the development of a 3D conformal radiotherapeutic device, a device able to treat with more efficiency and in a safer way to the patients. This development saw improvements in the treatment of metastatic tumors. Additionally, the new millennia brought new technology that introduced the RT machine, a special form of image-guided radiation therapy that allowed for re-planning and optimizing treatment techniques.

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