Radiation therapy is a common treatment for many types of skull base tumors. Often combined with other approaches, such as surgery and chemotherapy, radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to damage cancer cells with minimal disruption to surrounding healthy tissues. After being exposed to radiation, cancer cells cannot reproduce or repair themselves.
Radiation therapy can be administered to:
- Address cancer cells that may remain following surgery to remove a skull base tumor
- Treat skull base tumors that can only be partially removed through surgery
- Target skull base tumors located in especially delicate areas of the brain that cannot be safely operated on
- Treat skull base tumors in patients who are not healthy enough to undergo invasive surgery
Moffitt Cancer Center's radiation oncologists are well-versed in administering all types of radiation therapy. This includes external beam radiation therapy and stereotactic radiosurgery, both of which are frequently used to treat skull base tumors.
External beam radiation therapy
During external beam radiation therapy, a machine is used to deliver and direct high-energy rays (or beams) to a precise location in the patient’s body determined by extensive and highly detailed imaging tests. Surrounding healthy tissues are largely spared, minimizing potential side effects. External radiation is usually done during outpatient visits at a hospital or treatment center.
Types of Radiation Therapy for Skull Base Tumors
The general concept of radiation therapy is the same, but there are different names/types of external radiation therapy options. They differ mainly on the machine and form used to deliver the high-energy rays. The choice of which type of radiation therapy depends on several factors such as tumor type, location, size and prior radiation treatments.
The most common types of radiation therapy for skull base tumors are:
- Fractionated stereotactic radiotherapy (FSRT) - Fractionated stereotactic radiotherapy (FSRT) is a type of photon beam radiation therapy that uses photon rays to get to the tumor from multiple angles while minimizing damage to the healthy tissue around the tumor. The photon beams are invisible and cannot be felt when they are passing through the skin to the cancer. Treatment is usually broken up into multiple sessions based on the patient’s diagnosis and care preferences.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) - Stereotactic radiosurgery is performed to precisely deliver a high dose of radiation from multiple angles to a skull base tumor or portion of a tumor that could not be fully removed through surgery. It is usually a one-time treatment that may be appropriate for patients with small tumors or who are not candidates for invasive surgery. Despite the name, radiosurgery is not a surgical procedure and the delivery of the beams are done through the skin without cuts. Stereotactic radiosurgery may be called different names depending on the name of the company that makes the machine such as X-Knife, CyberKnife, Clinac, Gamma Knife, etc.
- Proton beam radiation therapy - Proton beam radiation therapy uses proton beams instead of photons or electrons. This means the type of beam or ray being delivered has different behavior. The proton beam radiation may be able to deliver higher radiation doses to the tumor while reducing side effects on normal tissues. Protons can only be put out by a special machine called a cyclotron or synchrotron. Proton beams are suitable to only specific types of tumors and patients.
Our approach to skull base tumor treatment
Moffitt’s nationally applauded Neuro-Oncology Program is home to radiation oncologists, radiologists, neurosurgeons and other experts who focus exclusively on treating tumors in the skull base and brain. To request a consultation at Moffitt and be rapidly connected with a cancer professional, complete a new patient registration form online or call 1-888-663-3488.
Medically reviewed by Andre Beer Furlan, MD, PhD, skull base and endovascular neurosurgeon