What is biological treatment planning for radiation therapy?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My father is undergoing radiation therapy for colon cancer. His radiation oncologist mentioned biological treatment planning, and we've seen references to it on the Internet. What does this mean?

Expert Answer

Oncologist Shalom Kalnicki is chairman of radiation oncology at Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.

This is a brand-new area of radiation therapy that's still being researched but that holds a great deal of promise for colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and other cancers in which some parts of the tumor are growing much faster than others.

Biological treatment planning, also known as biological optimization, uses PET scanning data to adjust the dose delivery and treatment plan for the radiation in a way that precisely matches not only the tumor's shape, size, and location but also the density of the cancer cells. On the PET scans, some portions of the tumor look more or less active. So instead of giving the same dose every day to the entire area, this advanced computer modeling technology allows us to more accurately focus intense beams of radiation on the faster-growing areas.

This method is currently being studied in a number of cancer centers and is showing good results in local tumor control, as well as fewer side effects. It's very new and not widely available, but it's one of the techniques I would recommend asking your father's doctors about when choosing a facility for radiation treatment.