Find answers below to the questions we hear most often, such as what radiation therapy involves and what ASTRO does. For more information, visit RT Answers for brochures, videos and other patient-friendly information, or contact ASTRO's media relations team.
The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) is the largest radiation oncology society in the world, with more than 10,000 members who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. As the leading organization in radiation oncology, biology and physics, ASTRO is dedicated to improving patient care through education, clinical practice, advancement of science and advocacy. Read more about ASTRO's history.
ASTRO’s members are physicians, nurses, biologists, physicists, radiation therapists, dosimetrists and other health providers and scientists who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. ASTRO’s membership consists of health care professionals from community medical centers as well as academic research facilities. Read more about ASTRO member demographics.
Within the field of radiation oncology, ASTRO promotes scientific and technological advancements by sponsoring meetings for oncologists and other health care providers, publishing three peer-reviewed research journals, and providing educational and professional development opportunities for its members.
Within the medical community, ASTRO fosters cooperative efforts between radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, surgeons and other physicians to provide effective treatment through a team approach.
ASTRO also publishes educational materials to keep patients and the general public informed about radiation therapy as a treatment option. ASTRO also works with the media to promote accurate articles on scientific breakthroughs involving radiation therapies and is a major contributor in the development of legislation and regulations affecting patient care.
Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy or irradiation, is the careful, therapeutic use of high-energy waves or streams of particles called radiation. At low doses, physicians and radiologists use radiation for diagnostic purposes to take internal pictures (X-rays) of the body. Radiation oncologists, highly trained cancer treatment specialists, use higher doses of radiation to treat cancer and other diseases. Patients benefit from this type of treatment because the high-energy waves used in radiation therapy are able to kill fast-growing cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissue.
A specially trained physician, called a radiation oncologist, is responsible for prescribing a patient’s radiation therapy treatment. The radiation oncologist works with a specially trained team of health care professionals, including radiation oncology nurses, medical physicists, dosimetrists and radiation therapists. This team works under the direction of the radiation oncologists to ensure high quality care for patients. Radiation oncologists are different from radiologists, who use radiation to diagnose disease and detect other health problems.
Depending on the location of the cancer, patients can receive radiation therapy either externally or internally. External radiation is created and delivered by special machines, typically linear accelerators. With external radiation, a machine directs the high-energy waves at the cancer and a small amount of the healthy tissue surrounding it. When internal radiation is used, the radiation source is placed inside the body. The radiation source can be delivered by an intravenous injection or by temporarily or permanently inserting radioactive pellets or wires directly into the tumor. The insertion of a radioactive substance into a tumor is called brachytherapy.
With external radiation, the total dose of radiation needed to kill the cancer cells is more than most patients can handle at one time so the dose is typically spread out over a series of daily outpatient treatments. Each treatment is brief and the radiation therapy machine will turn on and off throughout the treatment. The actual treatment is painless, but there can be side effects depending on what part of the body is being treated. The total number of treatments varies with the type of cancer and the extent of disease and can range from one to forty treatments. With internal radiation, some brachytherapy treatments are given more than once depending on the type and the extent of the patient’s cancer. Some types of brachytherapy are given on an outpatient basis while others require admission to a hospital for one or more days.
The radiation oncology team is made up of radiation oncologists, radiation oncology nurses, medical physicists, dosimetrists, radiation therapists and social workers. All states require continuing medical education for these professionals, and many states have programs to regularly inspect the radiation therapy equipment.
To become a radiation oncologist, you must complete four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of general medical training and four years of residency or specialty training in radiation oncology. In order to become board-certified in radiation oncology, you must pass a series of exams administered by the American Board of Radiology.
ASTRO’s Annual Meeting is the nation’s premier scientific meeting about advances in radiation oncology.
These meetings highlight the best and most up-to-date research in radiation oncology. Meetings also provide ASTRO members and other attendees with education and professional development opportunities, including continuing medical education (CME) credits for physicians, continuing education units for nurses and medical dosimetrists, and CAMPEP credits for physicists.
The Annual Meeting is held concurrently with annual gatherings of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASTR) and the Society of Radiation Oncology Administrators (SROA).
ASTRO’s 60th Annual Meeting will be held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas from October 21 to 24, 2018. The theme of the meeting is “Translating Discovery to Cure.” Learn more about the upcoming Annual Meeting.
ASTRO’s Annual Meeting attracts approximately 11,000 attendees including oncologists from all disciplines, medical physicists, dosimetrists, residents, radiation therapists, radiation oncology nurses and nurse practitioners, biologists, physician assistants, practice administrators, industry representatives and other health care professionals from around the world.
In 2017, the four-day scientific meeting included presentations of more than 2,800 abstracts sharing results from clinical trials and other research studies, as well as educational sessions and keynote addresses that underscored the meeting’s theme, “The Healing Art and Science of Radiation Oncology.” Keynote speakers included Richard D. Zane, MD, FAAEM, Chief Innovation Officer for the University of Colorado Health System; a “fireside chat” between Lucy Kalanithi, MD, FACP, widow of Paul Kalanithi, MD, the best-selling author of “When Breath Becomes Air,” and Heather Wakelee, MD, her late husband’s oncologist; and Vinay K. Prasad, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University. Concurrent with the scientific and educational programs, more than 200 exhibitors demonstrated cutting-edge technology and medical device innovations for radiation oncology.
ASTRO Annual Meetings also include a press program, with news briefings that highlight a select group of studies. View a recap of the 2017 press program, including slides and photos.
ASTRO’s 59th Annual Meeting was held in San Diego in September 2017. View a recap of the press program and a video of the meeting highlights.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death among all Americans, exceeded only by heart disease.
In 2018, approximately 609,640 Americans are expected to die of cancer - more than 1,670 people a day. As of 2015, the death rate had dropped 26 percent due to the reductions in smoking, as well as improvements in early detection and treatment.
In 2018, it is estimated that about 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed. Nearly 16.5 million new cases of cancer have been diagnosed in the last 10 years.
Over the course of a lifetime, approximately 40 out of 100 men and 38 out of 100 women will develop cancer. About 87 percent of all cancers are diagnosed in patients aged 50 or older.
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. The next most common cancer for men is prostate cancer, followed by lung cancer and colorectal cancer. The next most common cancer for women is breast cancer, followed by lung cancer and colorectal cancer. Among children age 14 and younger, the most common cancers are leukemias.
Among racial/ethnic groups, cancer rates are highest for non-Hispanic blacks, followed by non-Hispanic whites. Rates are lowest for Asian/Pacific Islanders, followed by Hispanics/Latinos.
Only a small proportion of cancers are strongly hereditary, meaning they are caused by high-risk inherited genes.
The five-year relative survival rate for all cancers is 69 percent, which means that 69 percent of all patients diagnosed with cancer survive beyond year five and 31 percent of patients survive less than five years. The survival rate has increased from 49 percent in the late 1970s.
Approximately 15.5 million Americans are cancer survivors.
In 2014, approximately $87.8 billion was spent on cancer-related health care in the U.S., including costs paid by employers, insurance companies, public programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and cancer patients and their families. 1
Sources: American Cancer Society (2018 Facts and Figures), 1American Cancer Society/Cancer Action Network (2017). Content last updated 5/1/2018.