Radiation Therapy Overview
Radiation Therapy refers to the use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The radiation may come from a machine outside the body known as external-beam radiation therapy, or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells which is also known as internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy.
The ION Radiation Oncology Team
The core radiation oncology team will consist of the following members:
• Radiation Oncologist: Your doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer
• Dosimetrist: Technologist who plans the treatment
• Medical Physicist: Who makes sure that the treatment plan and equipment delivers the right amount of radiation
• Radiation Therapists: Our expert technologist who actually administers the radiation treatment
Steps of the Radiation Therapy Process:
- Treatment Planning
- Simulation: Radiation oncologist uses a process called simulation to define where to aim the radiation. During simulation, the patient lies very still on a CT scanner. Other imaging studies such as MRI and PET CT help the Dosimetrist plan how to direct the radiation
- Confirmatory Simulation: This is the step where we confirm that the adequate area is included as per treatment planning
- Treatment: Time spent under the radiation beam. It depends on the type of radiation and it can range from 5 to 15 minutes
- Follow-Up: After the course of treatment is completed, the patient will be asked to come back for periodic follow-ups with the radiation oncologist.
Radiation therapy treatment techniques
There are many different types of radiation therapy available. All of them have different advantages and we will select the method that is best suited for you.
Typical Radiation Therapy Course from beginning to end:
The day of your initial consultation visit, we ask that you bring with you all medical records and imaging CDs you have relating to your cancer. You must also bring with you a form of identification (typically a drivers license) and your health insurance cards/information. When you arrive, you will be asked to fill out and sign some forms including a satisfaction survey. Our front desk staff will also take your picture to place in your electronic chart.
Our team will review with you all your records and discuss your medical history. A physical examination will be conducted. We will explain in depth the treatment plan, which may involve further imaging studies and/or lab tests prior to the therapy. We will answer any questions that you and your family may have. You will be asked to sign an informed consent at this time. No radiation therapy will be given during this visit.
The CT simulation is essentially a CT scan that is done in our center during a separate visit from your consultation visit. It is used to create the treatment plan for your radiation therapy treatment. You will likely be asked to drink some form of oral contrast, which makes the CT simulation images much clearer. The scan itself is completely painless and only takes a few minutes. Virtually any patient who will undergo radiation therapy must have a CT simulation. It may be necessary to use some type of immobilization device for your face or body. Our team of radiation therapists will work hard to make sure you are comfortable and that you understand all that is happening during the entire time of your CT simulation.
The Planning and Quality Assurance of your treatment is done by ION’s Dosimetry and Medical Physics team. Using your CT simulation and any recent imaging scans that you may have had done, they create an exact model of where the radiation dose will be delivered in order to target the tumor more precisely while protecting surrounding healthy tissues. Dr. Amendola and her team will approve the plan upon reviewing all parameters. Afterwards, the team will perform the quality assurance, or QA, test. Using the treatment machine and a device known as a phantom, the treatment you will undergo is reproduced and dose measurements are verified. You will not need to be present in the office for this step.
The typical radiation therapy treatment course is given every day Monday to Friday. We will make every effort to accommodate your preferred time slot for treatment most suitable to your needs. The time that is selected is the time that you will be expected to come in every day for all of your treatments. It is very important not to miss or delay treatments, as it can change the way the radiation kills tumor cells. The daily radiation therapy treatment lasts about 15 minutes and is completely painless. You will not see, hear, or smell radiation. When you come to therapy, you will lie on a special table in the treatment position, and you will be required to hold still for a few minutes; sometimes certain molds or boards will be used to position your body.
You will not feel anything during the treatment. Although you will be alone in the treatment room during the actual therapy, there are cameras that are used to monitor you at all times. You will be able to communicate with the radiation therapists continuously throughout the treatment. You may have several checks during your treatment course to make sure that positioning is exactly where it should be.
The side-effects you may experience are specific to the area on your body getting treated and typically start appearing around the third week of your treatment. For example, prostate cancer patients typically experience urinary frequency as a side effect of the radiation therapy because the bladder is very close to the prostate, but they will not experience hair loss or headaches as a side effect.
The only hair loss that can be experienced in radiation therapy is the hair that covers the area of treatment. Complete hair loss is a side effect of chemotherapy, which is a completely different treatment than radiation therapy. In order to treat your side effects, you may be prescribed medication, suggested an altered diet, or prescribed a topical lotion to apply to affected areas. You will be evaluated by the medical team once a week during the treatment course.
On the last day of your treatment, the doctor will see you and will determine what should happen next in your treatment management plan. You will be given a follow up appointment as well as instructions to possibly undergo a scan, lab work, or to see another doctor for a different type of management or evaluation.
Follow ups with the doctor are very important not to miss. Continued care is essential to your health, and failure to adhere to the agreed upon plan of care may have significant negative consequences.
We are glad you have chosen Innovative Cancer Institute to manage your disease and look forward to helping you and your family in the fight against cancer!