Radiation therapy is the use of high–energy X–rays for the treatment of disease, primarily cancer. Radiation can be an effective treatment for many cancers, and is designed to work by preventing cancer cells from growing and multiplying. Radiation damages the tumor cells and can help prevent them from dividing. The goal is to slow or stop the growth of the tumor. In many cases the tumor may be completely destroyed.
First Visit, Consultation
The radiation oncologist will discuss your cancer and the treatment options available to you. The doctor will also discuss the length of treatment, side effects and any further tests that might be needed. And this is the time for you to ask questions. If possible, bring a family member with you on this visit.
Simulation is the first part of the treatment planning process. During this phase, we use X–ray equipment (called a simulator) designed to find the best position for you and the treatment beam. Sometimes a non–toxic dye will be given to you to outline certain internal organs. Prior to the simulation, the radiation therapist may place you into a special positioning device that will help you hold your body still during the process.
During the simulation you will be given tiny permanent or semi–permanent markings about the size of a freckle, which mark the treatment area for future reference. They create a focus for the treatment machine, assuring precise placement each time treatment is administered. You will be able to bathe or shower normally without concern about washing them off.
The machine used to treat your illness, a linear accelerator, is designed to provide therapeutic doses of radiation. In some cases, protective blocks will be made especially for you to shield your healthy tissues from the radiation.
During treatment you will lie on a table that will raise you into place beneath the treatment machine. The therapist will align your body to ensure proper administration of therapy. Patients differ in the number of angles and sites needed for treatment. Your therapist will monitor your treatment from outside the room using a video screen and an intercom. The machine will create a buzzing sound that you will be able to hear while the radiation is delivered. It is extremely important that you do not move during treatment.
You will be assessed weekly during your treatment visits to see how your body is responding. Your weight, blood pressure and pulse will be taken. The nurse can answer any questions you may have at this time.
It’s important to schedule regular exams after your treatment is finished to check the continuing effect of your treatment. This may include blood work and X–rays. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also part of following through after your radiation therapy is complete.
The most important health advocate you have is yourself. It’s vital to your treatment’s success for you to follow all home care instructions carefully, and report any unusual symptoms to your healthcare team.