WHAT IS RADIATION THERAPY?
Radiation therapy is the use of high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. It works just like a regular X-ray only it uses higher
doses of radiation.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Radiation therapy works by damaging cells. Normal cells are able to repair themselves,
but the cancer cells cannot.
HOW IS IT DELIVERED
Radiation therapy can be delivered in two ways, externally and internally. The majority of cancers are treated with external radiation. During external beam radiation therapy, radiation beams come out of a machine called a linear accelerator. The beams are aimed at the tumor (either where it is or where it was before surgery and/or chemotherapy). You don't see it, feel it, or taste it; it is completely invisible. To minimize side effects, treatments are typically given five days a week, Monday through Friday, for a number of weeks. This allows enough radiation to get into the body to kill the cancer while giving healthy cells time to recover.
IS RADIATION THERAPY SAFE?
Radiation has been used successfully to treat patients for more than 100 years. In that time, many advances have been made to ensure that radiation therapy is safe and effective.
Before you begin receiving radiation therapy, your radiation oncology team will carefully tailor your plan to make sure you receive safe and accurate treatment. Treatment will be carefully planned to focus on the cancer while avoiding healthy organs in the area. Throughout your treatment, members of your team check and re-check your plan. Special computers are also used to monitor and double-check the treatment machines to make sure the proper treatment is given. Radiation therapy will not make you radioactive after treatment.
RADIATION THERAPY TEAM
You will meet many people during your course of radiation treatments. A radiation oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with radiation, leads the radiation team.
Radiation oncologists are the doctors who will oversee your radiation therapy treatments. You will meet the radiation oncologist at the initial visit, and she/he will also see you throughout the course of treatment to monitor and take care of any side effects. In addition to working with all the members of the radiation therapy team, your radiation oncologist works very closely with the other doctors taking care of you.
Radiation therapists are the people who actually give the daily radiation treatment. They do so under the doctor’s prescription and supervision. They maintain daily records and regularly check the treatment machines to make sure they are working properly. These will be the people at the radiation machine; the people that you will see every day.
MEDICAL PHYSICISTS AND DOSIMETRISTS
Medical physicists and dosimetrists are responsible for developing radiation plans according to what your doctor prescribes. Using computers, they develop treatment plans that can best destroy the tumor while sparing the healthy tissue.
PALLIATIVE MEDICINE PHYSICIAN
Palliative Medicine Physicians are the doctors who help the cancer patient shave the best quality of life through treatment or as their cancer progresses. The focus of palliative care is to relieve pain and other symptoms. To improve emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.
OTHER HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS
MEETING WITH A RADIATION ONCOLOGIST:
You may work with a number of other healthcare professionals while undergoing radiation therapy. These specialists ensure that all of your physical and psychological needs are met during your child’s treatment. They may include social workers, nutritionists and physical therapists.
If radiation therapy is part of your treatment plan, you will first meet with a radiation oncologist. Your radiation oncologist will discuss the role radiation has in treatment and answer your questions.
To be most effective, radiation therapy must be aimed precisely at the same target every time treatment is given. The process of measuring your body and marking the skin to help direct the beams of radiation safely and exactly to their intended locations is called simulation.
During simulation, your radiation oncologist and radiation therapist will place you on the simulation machine in the exact position that will be used during the actual treatment. Depending on what area of the body is going to be treated, simulation may include an immobilization device. Immobilization devices are used to ensure that you remain in the same position every day during the entire treatment.
Once the simulation is finished, the radiation oncologist and other members of the treatment team review the information obtained during simulation along with previous medical tests to develop a treatment plan. After reviewing all of this information, the doctor will write a prescription that outlines exactly how much radiation is to be given and where. Once the treatment planning is complete, treatment will begin. The complexity of the treatment plan dictates how soon after simulation treatment will begin. Not all cancers are treated with the same amount of radiation; your doctor will tell you how long the treatment will last.
After the simulation, before the first dose of radiation, treatment verification films (also called beam films or port films) will be completed in the Radiation Oncology Unit. These films verify that the area being treated is in fact the exact area the doctor planned. These films need to be approved by the doctor before the first dose of radiation is given.
Every day, the radiation therapists will assure correct position, including the use of the immobilization device if that is a part of treatment.. Once correct placement is assured, the therapists will leave the room and go to the control area to closely monitor you on a television screen. There is a microphone in the treatment room so you can always talk with the therapists. The machine can be stopped at any time if you are feeling sick or uncomfortable. Each session is painless; you don’t see it, taste it, or smell it; it is just like getting an X-ray. You will be on the treatment table for 10-15 minutes; most of this time is spent setting you up.
The radiation therapist may move the treatment machine and treatment table to target the radiation beam to the exact area of the tumor. The machine might make noises during treatment that sound like clicking, knocking or whirring; this is normal.
Treatments are usually scheduled five days a week, Monday through Friday, and continue for one to 10 weeks depending on the type of cancer being treated.
WEEKLY STATUS CHECKS:
During radiation therapy, your radiation oncologist will see your regularly to follow progress. Be sure to share any questions or concerns that you may have during these visits or anytime during treatment. They will evaluate whether you are having any side effects and recommend treatments for those side effects (such as medication). As treatment progresses, your doctor may make changes in the schedule or treatment plan depending on response or reaction to the therapy.
Your radiation therapy team may also meet on a regular basis with other healthcare professionals to review your case. This will ensure that treatment is proceeding as planned. During these sessions, all the members of the team discuss progress as well as any concerns.
WEEKLY PORT/BEAM FILMS:
During the course of treatment, it is necessary to make sure the radiation beams are going exactly where they are designed to go. Once a week, the therapists will take port or beam films for the radiation oncologist to approve. These are the same type of films that were taken on the first day. In order to continue radiation, your radiation oncologist must approve these films. Your child may be on the table for a few more minutes than usual on the day of port/beam films. These films do not show the tumor’s response to radiation.
After treatment is completed, your radiation oncologist will work closely with the other team of doctors taking care of you to make sure recovery is proceeding normally