Understanding Radiation

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Understanding Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a treatment for cancer that involves radioactive energy to destroy the cancer cells and their division.

Each patient gets a custom radiation plan that will carefully target their cancer while limiting the effect on healthy tissue. Radiation works by keeping cancer cells from growing and dividing, causing them to die.

Radiation to healthy cells can cause a variety of side effects and depend on where in the body you are being treated. Possible side effects that you might experience will be discussed with you, as well as ways to manage them.

Your care team during radiation treatment is here to support you. Your care team is your doctor, nurse, radiation therapists, dosimetrist and physicist.

Your treatment path will consist of a Consultation, CT Simulation scan, Planning, Treatment and Follow-Up.

Consultation

The first step in your radiation treatment is the initial consultation. During this meeting you will discuss radiation treatment, how it will help you and how to prepare. It is a good idea to bring someone with you who can help to remind you of any questions you have and write down answers to your questions. 

CT Simulation Scan

The next step will be the CT Simulation scan that is used to create your treatment plan. You might need an IV for contrast to be administered, or you may be asked to drink a small amount of contrast. If you need to limit food and/or drink, you will be informed beforehand. 

During the scan, the radiation therapist will position you in the same way you will need to lay during treatment. To make sure the position is the same each time, a body mold or face mask could be created. After the scan, small skin markings or tattoos are placed on the body to use for alignment.

Planning

After the scan, a custom plan of radiation will take normally about 3–7 business days to develop. When your plan is ready, you will receive a call letting you know the day and time of the first treatment. When you come for the first treatment, you will be given a schedule of the remaining days and times for your radiation therapy.

Treatment

During your treatment, you will likely receive radiation every weekday. During this time you will meet with the doctor and nurse once a week. This meeting is to check on any side effects or changes in your health. Even though you will not see the doctor every day, the doctor is in close communication with your radiation therapists and reviews any X-rays obtained during your treatment.

Each day, you will check into the clinic and change into a gown for treatment. Once in the treatment room, the radiation therapists will position you the same as during the CT scan, making sure you are aligned correctly each time. 

During treatment, the therapists leave the room to administer the radiation. You are monitored from the control room and can be seen and heard over video and intercom. You do not feel radiation while it is being given and you are safe to be around other people. You will hear noises from the machine and see it move during treatment, this is normal. 

Follow-Up

After radiation treatment is complete, the effects of radiation continue to work in the body on the cancer cells. The side effects should go away gradually. At your follow-up appointments these side effects will be monitored.