Home News & Events News BLOG: Is MR-linac Radiotherapy an Alternative for Surgery?

Surgery is a well-known method of treating cancer, but what about the fairly new treatment, MR-linac radiotherapy?

When a new cancer treatment becomes available, they are often compared to existing forms of treatment. To review whether MR-linac can be an alternative treatment to surgery, we will look at its benefits and capabilities. MR-linac radiotherapy is one of the latest advancements in precision radiotherapy, this treatment was launched at our Rutherford Cancer Centre in the North West in early 2021, as part of our aim to continue to widen access to leading radiotherapy treatments for cancer patients across the UK.

MR linac radiotherapy suite

This form of radiotherapy treatment can visualise cancer tumours during treatment, due to its real-time MRI scanning capabilities, ensuring that each radiation dose is delivered to the target and sparing healthy tissue. This makes MR-linac radiotherapy very beneficial for cancer tumours that can move around due to bodily functions (such as breathing), meaning our clinical team can adapt and reshape the radiotherapy treatment dose based on daily changes in shape, size and position of the tumour and surrounding healthy anatomy.

Both MR-linac radiotherapy and surgery can be viewed as suitable treatments for cancer, depending on the location and stage of the cancer. Generally, if the cancer has reached an advanced stage and has started to spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body, then radiotherapy is the preferred treatment of choice – but it may be used in conjunction with surgery.

Surgery and MR-linac Radiotherapy for Treating Prostate Cancer 

Prostate cancer is one of the main types of cancer where patients may face a choice between undergoing surgery or MR-linac radiotherapy. This is because, in most cases, when men are diagnosed with prostate cancer it is found in the early stages before it has progressed. Many patients prefer to undergo surgery to remove the prostate gland (radical prostatectomy) and the cancer in its entirety. 

Others prefer not to undergo surgery, due to the potential side effects, which may include erectile dysfunction, incontinence and inability to produce sperm. These side effects are mainly caused by the removal of the prostate gland and damage to the nerves surrounding the prostate.

Although it is not the only reason to opt for MR-linac radiotherapy over surgery, many men prefer radiotherapy to preserve their sexual function – particularly if they hope to father children. 

MR linac radiotherapy team

When Would Combination Therapy be Recommended?

Often, it is not a case of using radiotherapy or surgery, but radiotherapy and surgery. 

Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, it may be recommended that a patient undergoes combination therapy consisting of both MR-linac radiotherapy and surgery. In this case, the question will be, in what order they are used. Usually, when the cancer has metastasized, surgery will not be the primary treatment but may take place before the patient undergoes radiotherapy. 

In the case that the cancer is still localised, but the tumour is of a manageable size, a patient may undergo a course of MR-linac radiotherapy treatment before surgery to reduce the size of the tumour, therefore making it easier for surgeons to remove it. This is called debulking. This is more common for patients with lung, oesophageal or bladder cancer where the tumour cannot be removed completely by surgery alone.

Combination therapy may also be used not as a means of treating/removing the cancer completely but to manage symptoms and prolong life. This will be when the cancer has reached an advanced stage and is considered terminal. At this point, the aim is to offer a best-case scenario which is to manage symptoms and treat the cancer so the patient can enjoy a good quality of life for as long as possible.

Speak to a Consultant

Ultimately, MR-linac radiotherapy can be used on its own and achieve effective results, but also in combination with surgery, depending on the patient’s circumstances. Your consultant will be able to advise on the best course of action to treat and manage your cancer and symptoms, offering all the information to help you to decide.

MR-linac radiotherapy is available at Rutherford Cancer Centre North West, and although surgery is not carried out at The Rutherford, we have partnering hospitals that we work with to give you the best treatment options available. For more information, please get in contact with a member of our team today.


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