Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy x-rays or particles (called electrons). It works by killing tumor cells or inhibiting their growth and division. Through years of clinical trials, radiation oncologists have studied the use of radiation therapy to treat cancer. These studies have led to the widespread use of effective and well-tolerated doses of radiation therapy.
You will first meet with a radiation oncologist to decide if radiation therapy is a recommended treatment option for your particular situation. If you and your physicians decide to proceed, then you will have an extended consultation in which you discuss the details of your treatment. This includes the exact area to treat, the amount of radiation you will receive, the length of treatment time and potential treatment side effects. The radiation oncologist will also answer any questions you may have. These issues vary for each patient, so it is important to make an individual treatment plan.
Before your first radiation treatment, you will have a simulation appointment that will last approximately one to two hours. During this appointment, the physician will identify the exact areas on your body to treat with radiation. This involves lying on a table while the radiation therapist marks the field with small dots made with permanent ink, and then proceeding to a radiation therapy planning CT scan. Each dot is similar to a very small tattoo. You will not receive any radiation treatment during this appointment.
When you arrive, please check in at the desk. Each treatment should only last 10-15 minutes. You can change your clothes in the dressing room and then wait in the lounge to be called. During each treatment session, you will lie on a table while the radiation therapist uses the marks on your skin to locate and treat the field. It is important to be still while getting the radiation, although you should continue to breathe normally.
Please talk to your physician, radiation therapist, or nurse if you have concerns about side effects before you begin treatment or if you have questions about managing your side effects during treatment.
You will meet with your radiation oncologist during your treatments or as often as you desire. Should you have additional questions or concerns, simply ask to speak with your physician again.
You may or may not experience anxiety or fear when you begin your treatment. Most people tell us that their concerns lessen as they adapt to the new environment and treatment. Please speak to the staff if you feel that you need either emotional or practical support. There is a social worker on staff in the Department of Radiation Oncology. This may be a time when you think again about support groups or one-on-one consultation for the feelings that arise or to support your coping.