Preparing for Radiation Therapy
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From your pre-admission to your care.
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|Please Note: This video of the Preparing for Radiation class includes a detailed Powerpoint (slide) presentation.|
Radiation is an effective way to treat and, in many cases, cure people with cancer. Of all cancer patients, 60 percent receive radiation at some time during their care. Radiation also may be used to treat people with certain noncancerous conditions.
In cancer treatment, the goal of radiation therapy may be to cure cancer, to control the growth of the cancer or to relieve symptoms. Radiation therapy may be used alone or in combination with surgery, chemotherapy or hormone treatment to achieve these goals.
The delivery of radiation is technically complex and requires a team of highly trained physicians, nurses, physicists, dosimetrists and radiation therapists. Your radiation oncologist is a doctor who specializes in the medical use of radiation to treat patients with cancer.
Your Initial Visit
Your first visit to a radiation oncologist is called a consultation. The doctor will do a physical examination, evaluate the findings and discuss the values of radiation oncology. Diagnostic X-rays, pathology slides, medical reports and laboratory test results will be reviewed to determine if you will benefit from radiation. In addition, you will need to bring appropriate referral forms and insurance forms and cards.
The radiation oncologist will explain the expected benefits, risks and outcomes of your radiation therapy. Before beginning treatment and after your questions have been answered, you will be asked to sign a consent form for the delivery of your radiation treatment.
Planning for Your Treatment
There are several steps involved in planning your radiation therapy.
- Simulation is the first step. The purpose is to identify the area to be treated. A dedicated CT simulation machine mimics the movements of a linear accelerator (the machine that delivers the actual treatment). The CT simulator produces diagnostic quality X-rays to verify the position of the anatomy to be treated.
- Once simulation is completed, your skin will be marked with small dots of permanent ink ("tattoos") to outline the area of radiation and ensure that the therapists can treat you accurately each day. If needed, custom immobilization devices will be made for you at the time of simulation to help you keep the precise position on a daily basis.
- A unique treatment plan is created for each patient using the information gathered during the simulation.
- You will return for a "trial run," called a set-up, using the actual treatment machine. You will be placed on the treatment machine in your simulation position. Special X-rays, called electronic portal images or port films, will be taken to show the path of the X-ray beam(s). These will be compared to the plans done by the treatment planning team. If your doctor agrees that this is the most effective plan, you are ready to begin treatment.
Your Daily Treatments
Your radiation oncologist will decide the specific number of treatments you will get based on your type of cancer, its location and your overall treatment plan. Most patients are treated five days a week, Monday through Friday, for one to eight weeks. Some patients are treated twice a day, depending on the type of cancer. The weekend rest permits normal cells to recover between radiation treatments.
Your treatment appointment will generally be at the same time every day. When you arrive in the Radiation Oncology Department, check in at the receptionist desk. The receptionists will let the therapists at your treatment machine know you have arrived.
In most cases, you will need to change into a gown for treatment. Then, you will be escorted into the treatment room by a licensed radiation therapist who will administer your treatment.
Overall, you will spend about one hour in the Radiation Oncology Department on a daily basis. Treatment times vary and could range from a few minutes to 25 minutes based on your individual plan. You will not see or hear the radiation and will not feel anything. The process is like having a diagnostic X-ray.
You will be in communication with and viewed by your radiation therapist via an intercom system and monitored at all times during your treatment.
Once the treatment session is completed, your radiation therapist will help you off the table and you can get dressed and resume your normal schedule. You are not radioactive and do not need to avoid other people because of your treatment.
Side effects of treatment, most likely, will relate to the area of the body being treated. If side effects occur during radiation therapy, most can be controlled with medications or diet. They usually go away within a few weeks after the treatment ends. Some patients have no side effects at all.