Radiation Therapy for Glioma & Astrocytoma

Specialists at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center may recommend radiation therapy to treat people who have high-grade gliomas. It involves using beams of energy to destroy cancer cells.

Doctors treat most people who have gliomas with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. If surgery is not possible, radiation therapy alone or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy with or without targeted therapy may be used to manage a glioma.

This approach may also be used to destroy any cancer cells or parts of a tumor that remain after surgery. Radiation therapy usually begins two to four weeks after surgery to remove a glioma or astrocytoma.

Doctors use external beam radiation therapy, in which radiation is given from outside the body, to manage a glioma or astrocytoma. A machine called a linear accelerator delivers external beam radiation therapy to the tumor. It rotates around you during therapy.

Treatment Planning and Guidance

Radiation oncologists at Perlmutter Cancer Center use CT scans of the brain, in conjunction with computer software, to develop a customized treatment plan. This software creates a three-dimensional image of the tumor and enables our doctors to determine how best to target the glioma while sparing healthy brain tissue.

Our doctors may also use frequent CT scans during treatments to ensure that radiation therapy targets the cancer and avoids other important tissues. This approach, which is called image-guided radiation therapy, enables a doctor to track the size and shape of the tumor over several weeks as radiation therapy begins to shrink the cancer.

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy

Our radiation oncologists may use an approach called intensity modulated radiation therapy to manage a glioma. This allows doctors to deliver radiation from different directions to target the entire tumor. They break up the radiation into many small, computer-controlled beams of different adjustable strengths. Together, these “mini-beams” are sculpted in three dimensions to closely conform to the size, shape, and location of the cancer.

This approach may allow for higher doses of radiation therapy and can help spare nearby healthy tissue. Doctors administer this treatment once daily, five days a week, for about six weeks.

Gamma Knife® radiosurgery may be used to boost the effects of external beam radiation therapy. Doctors may also use this combination of treatments for people with astrocytoma tumors that have returned after initial treatment.

Doctors at Perlmutter Cancer Center may also provide proton radiotherapy for some conditions. 

Managing Side Effects

Perlmutter Cancer Center doctors actively monitor you for side effects of radiation therapy, which may include nausea and fatigue. They offer integrative therapies as well as rehabilitation support for any symptoms you may experience. Symptoms tend to subside after treatment is finished.