Radiotherapy is the treatment of disease, especially cancer, using X-rays or similar forms of radiation, internally or externally.
Since the inception of radiotherapy soon after the discovery of X rays by Roentgen in 1895, the technology of X ray production has first been aimed towards ever higher photon and electron beam energies and intensities, and more recently towards computerization and intensity modulated beam delivery. During the first 50 years of radiotherapy the technological progress was relatively slow and mainly based on X ray tubes, van de Graaff generators and betatrons.
The invention of the 60Co teletherapy unit by H.E. Johns in Canada in the early 1950s provided a tremendous boost in the quest for higher photon energies and placed the cobalt unit at the forefront of radiotherapy for a number of years. The concurrently developed medical linacs, however, soon eclipsed cobalt units, moved through five increasingly sophisticated generations and became the most widely used radiation source in modern radiotherapy. With its compact and efficient design, the linac offers excellent versatility for use in radiotherapy through isocentric mounting and provides either electron or megavoltage X ray therapy with a wide range of energies.
In addition to linacs, electron and X ray radiotherapy is also carried out with other types of accelerator, such as betatrons and microtrons. More exotic particles, such as protons, neutrons, heavy ions and negative p mesons, all produced by special accelerators, are also sometimes used for radiotherapy; however, most contemporary radiotherapy is carried out with linacs or teletherapy cobalt units.