Expertise in Radiation Oncology

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy uses precise high-dose energy particles to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors while sparing surrounding healthy tissue. The goals of this treatment depend on the type of cancer as well as how far the cancer has spread. Radiation therapy may be given alone or along with other treatments. The type of radiation therapy you receive will depend on the type of cancer, the size and location of the tumor, and your general health.

More than half of cancer patients receive radiation therapy. Read on to learn about why Siteman Cancer Center is a top destination for radiation oncology care.

Radiation oncology at Washington University

The Washington University Department of Radiation Oncology, one of the largest in the United States, is nationally renowned for developing the latest radiation treatments for cancer patients. We offer the widest range of radiation therapy options in the Midwest, allowing our physicians to tailor treatment to each individual patient’s needs. We are a national leader in radiation oncology clinical trials, hold many leadership positions in cooperative groups and National Cancer Institute steering committees, and rank as the highest academic accrual site for cooperative group therapeutic trials. The department’s clinical programs consist of several centers of excellence including brachytherapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, adaptive radiation therapy and the S. Lee Kling Proton Therapy Center.

The department is a national leader in developing innovative technologies. It was the first department of radiation oncology in St. Louis and the Midwest to offer proton therapy, ultrasound-guided permanent seed prostate implants, high-dose-rate brachytherapy for a variety of anatomical sites, stereotactic radiosurgery, intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), 3D treatment planning, MRI-guided radiotherapy and clinical trials with radioimmunotherapy.

History of the program

Radiation oncology services have a long and rich history at Washington University, dating back to 1951 when the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology (MIR) first established a radiation therapy section, a relatively new concept in the medical community at the time. After many years of growth within MIR, the Washington University Department of Radiation Oncology was formally established in 2001 and has continued to revolutionize patient care and technological innovation.

In 2017, the department received accreditation through the American Society of Radiation Oncology Accreditation Program for Excellence (APEx), highlighting the department’s ongoing commitment to providing safe, high-quality radiation therapy services to its patients. In 2022, the department received reaccreditation in recognition of our continued dedication to delivering patient-centered radiation oncology care.

Research, technological and educational advancements

Early developments

  • Physician-scientists and physicists at Washington University helped pioneer many different technologies and techniques to improve patient care, such as CT scanning, positron-emission tomography (PET) and 3D treatment planning.
  • Department faculty collaborated with industry to develop the Clinac 35 Accelerator, a first generation of linear accelerators featuring built-in computers and the capability to produce short-lived radioactive isotopes.
  • William Powers, MD, the first director of radiation therapy, developed a process in which custom-built blocks made of cerrobend alloy could be used to block the delivery of radiation to areas outside of the treatment site.

Biological advances

  • Cancer biology scientists in the Department of Radiation Oncology developed a technique for simplifying the identification of hormone-responsive tumors and improving the reliability of assay procedures.
  • Current research focuses in the division include drug development, bioinformatics/omics, imaging and preclinical modeling.

Recent developments

  • Physician-scientists and physicists at Washington University were instrumental in developing MR-guided radiation therapy and were the first in the world to use this therapy to treat patients.
  • Department faculty obtained first-in-world images with a novel ring gantry radiation therapy unit that permits sufficient image quality for CT-based online adaptive radiation therapy.
  • Department faculty collaborated with cardiology to run the first patient clinical study using radiation to treat life-threatening arrhythmia. These trial findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and have resulted in the establishment of the Center for Noninvasive Cardiac Radioablation.

Commitment to education

The Department of Radiation Oncology at Washington University established a training program for radiation therapy technologists in 1966. The program, initiated by former chairman Carlos A. Perez, MD, was the first of its kind in the United States, and became nationally recognized for its standard of excellence. The Department of Radiation Oncology’s medical physics residency program, established in 1992, was the first program of its kind to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs (CAMPEP).