Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy

By William M. Mendenhall, MD

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is a relatively new treatment technique that allows the area irradiated to conform more precisely to the tumor. Treatment of head and neck cancers with IMRT is particularly challenging because, in addition to the gross tumor (cancer that can be seen or felt on a physical exam and/or radiographic studies), sites of subclinical disease (areas where the tumor may have spread) must be treated to different doses. Additionally, the chance of cure if the tumor recurs after irradiation is usually low. Nevertheless, IMRT offers the possibility of lower long-term side effects such as dry mouth, and thus may result in improved quality of life.

IMRT became available at the University of Florida in November 2000 and since that time many patients with a variety of head and neck cancer have been successfully treated.