FLORENCE, S.C. – Dr. Virginia Clyburn-Ipock, a radiation oncologist at McLeod Cancer Center, spoke Monday to the Florence Rotary Club at Victors about the role radiation plays in treating cancer patients.

She said this method of treating cancer has been around for more than 100 years.

“More than 60 percent of patients diagnosed with cancer will receive radiation therapy,” Clyburn-Ipock said.

She said cancer is the “abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells.” She said it is not just one disease but more than 100 different diseases. She said that abnormal cells can be found in any tissue in the body, and that if it is left unchecked, these cells will continue to grow, often at a very rapid rate.

She said the most common type of cancer in men is prostate cancer and in females it is breast cancer. Both men and women die more frequently from lung cancer than any other cancers, she said.

Clyburn-Ipock said the majority of lung cancers are not found until they reach Stage 3 or Stage 4. Stage 4 lung cancer means that it has spread elsewhere in the body, she said.

She also said with lung cancer the symptoms are not as readily recognized before reaching an advanced stage as they are in many other types of cancer.

Clyburn-Ipock said they now have annual low dose CT scans to help catch lung cancer in its earlier stages.

She said radiation may be used as the primary therapy alone, such as in early stage laryngeal cancer, or in combination with chemotherapy, such as cervical cancer. It can be used before or after surgery, such as with breast cancer.

Radiation serves two major functions, Clyburn-Ipock said. She said it can “cure cancer or reduce or palliate symptoms.” She said radiation therapy damages the DNA of cells and destroys their ability to reproduce.

There are two types of radiation – external beam radiation therapy that delivers high energy X-ray beams, or Brachytherapy, internal radiation therapy that involves implanting radioactive sources into the tumor, Clyburn-Ipock said.

She said external beam radiotherapy is given daily Monday to Friday for a specified number of weeks. The treatments usually last from 10 to 20 minutes. She said they are painless.

Clyburn-Ipock said modern radiation therapy techniques have decreased side effects significantly.

At McLeod, Clyburn-Ipock said they use a multidisciplinary approach to treating cancer.