Can You Get Cancer from Radiation Treatment?

by | Jan 16, 2023 | CyberKnife Center of Miami, Radiation Therapy

One of the big fears for cancer patients facing radiation is that the radiation treatment itself will increase the chance of developing a second type of cancer.

The experts at the CyberKnife Center of Miami – a premiere radiation center for cancer treatment in South Florida – want to educate our patients about this risk and how you can lower it.

First, more than 50% of cancer patients will need radiation at some point during the course of their disease, according to research published in the Radiation Oncology Journal in 2018. That means radiation can be lifesaving. So, it is necessary and often the best treatment option in many cases.

The 2018 study mentioned above suggests, after surviving the first bout of the primary cancer, 17% to 19% of patients may be diagnosed with cancer again because of three main factors:  lifestyle, genetics, and treatments from the first cancer. 

Radiation therapy “contributes to only about 5% of the total treatment related second malignancies,” the research states. “However, the incidence of radiation induced second malignancies is difficult to estimate because there are multiple factors that predispose the patients for second malignancies.”

“Both radiation and chemotherapy can lead to secondary cancers,” says Dr. Mark Pomper, medical director of CyberKnife Miami and board-certified radiation oncologist. “I’ve never seen a secondary cancer occur from radiation therapy treatments, nor have any members of my highly experienced team.”


Factors Increasing a Secondary Cancer After Primary Cancer

Age plays a role. According to the American Cancer Society, the younger a patient is when she has radiation treatment – like with a childhood cancer or a breast cancer diagnosis at a young age – the higher the risk of a second cancer as that patient ages.  

The dose of radiation matters. The general thought is the risk of developing a solid tumor after radiation for a primary tumor increases as the dose increases.

The area treated can increase the chance of a secondary cancer. Radiation for primary cancers like breast and thyroid cancer seem to increase the risk of developing another cancer.

Gender also makes a difference. According to the 2018 research, females have a higher risk of developing a secondary cancer from radiation. The reason may be earlier diagnosis of breast and thyroid cancer in women.

Finally, radiation type increases the risk too. Conventional radiation therapies as well as intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) can raise the risk too. With IMRT, more normal tissue may be exposed to radiation. However, it is very important to note more research is needed to “draw a solid conclusion that IMRT may really increase the risk,” the Radiation Oncology Journal research reports.


The CyberKnife Difference

Advances in radiation therapy – like the targeted approach with CyberKnife – decreases the risk of a secondary cancer from radiation. CyberKnife is a noninvasive radiation treatment system for cancerous and non-cancerous tumors as well as other medical issues where radiation may be part of the treatment plan. The technology is called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). It delivers radiation directly to the tumor leaving the healthy surrounding tissue unharmed.

“The radiation we do is so focused that it causes minimal side effects,” says Dr. Pomper in a YouTube interview on CyberKnife Miami’s YouTube channel.

CyberKnife can be used on prostate, lung, brain, spine, liver, pancreas, head and neck, and kidney tumors. It can also be used on tumors where surgery is not an option or in the case of metastasis. So, patients with those types of cancers may be candidates. It can also be used for trigeminal neuralgia as well as acoustic neuromas.

Accurate and precise delivery helps minimize irradiation of the healthy tissues surrounding tumors and potentially the risk of side effects, which may lead to better quality of life for the patient both during and after treatment,” Accuray, the maker of CyberKnife states on its website  

In fact, this video from Accuray shows the difference between CyberKnife’s delivery of radiation and other types of radiation. The precision makes a huge difference.


CyberKnife Miami

For more than two decades, experts like Dr. Pomper have used CyberKnife to treat patients from South Florida, throughout the United States, the Caribbean and around the world. At CyberKnife Miami, we often see patients who were turned away from other centers and told there was no hope. Given our experience we are not afraid of and often take on the most difficult cases.

If you would like to find out more about treatment with CyberKnife, call us at 305-279-2900 or go to our website now for more information