Lake Forest, IL,
14:36 PM

Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital Offers Tattoo-less Radiation Treatment for Cancer Patients

New technology provides precise treatment location without permanent markings on the body

Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital provides patients requiring radiation treatment one less step to worry about during their treatment journey. Radiation therapy often involves permanent tattoos applied to the patient’s skin for treatment purposes, and for many patients the tattoos are a painful experience and becomes a lifelong reminder of their treatment. 

Marks and tattoos historically allowed radiation teams to know exactly where to treat the patient. These small tattoos and skin marks provide alignment to the desired treatment area and are used as a guide for each radiation treatment session. On average, patients receive three to four tattoos.

The newer technology, called Surface Guided Radiation Therapy (SGRT), uses a 3D camera system to track the patient’s body surface in real-time allowing for the patient to be positioned with sub-millimeter accuracy and ensures they are receiving treatment in the correct position. Prior to SGRT, permanent markings were patients only option for cancer clinics to ensure they were treating the precise location.

Several studies have shown SGRT to be at least as accurate as either marks or tattoos for positioning patients prior to treatment, and the software has been shown to be 21% faster (per fraction) than traditional methods. In addition, a study conducted by the Young Survival Coalition published in the Breast Journal found that 78% of women with breast cancer would prefer tattoo and mark-free treatment and that they would be willing to travel more than 45 miles to a center that offers this treatment approach.

“We are pleased to offer our oncology patients requiring radiation an option to eliminate the tattoo process while still ensuring the precision that it requires,” said Marc Posner, MD, medical director of radiation oncology at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. “Our patients already have enough on their plate, and if we can offer them one less challenge to face during their treatment, we believe in seeing that through. We are proud to be the first cancer center in the region to deliver completely tattoo-less treatments to all of our cancer patients,  and are only one of two centers in Illinois that offers this technology.”

When Debra Kaden of Northbrook was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, she was told she would need both chemotherapy and radiation. “Receiving a cancer diagnosis and going through treatment is challenging,” said Kaden. “I’m relieved that I didn’t have to carry a permanent reminder of my treatments like patients had to before this technology was available.”

The tattoo-less radiation treatment is also available at Northwestern Medicine Grayslake Outpatient Facility. For more information, please go to