What is Radiation Therapy (external beam radiation)?
Ionizing radiation will be used for radiation therapy. Your doctor may choose to use x-rays or an electron beam. The type of radiation your doctor decides to use depends on what kind of cancer you have and how far into your body the radiation should go. High energy radiation is used to treat many types of cancers. Low energy (electrons) are used to treat some kinds of skin cancers and superficial cancers.
What to Expect
On your first visit with us you will be having a Consultation with a radiation oncologist. The radiation oncologist will discuss with you all the risks and benefits of having radiation therapy. It would help if you would bring some one in with you on this day since you will be receiving a lot of information for you to remember. There are a few things that might make this appointment easier: (Please bring the following)
All medical records and tests you have had concerning your diagnosis (Anything done outside of Beaver Medical Group and Redlands Community Hospital)
- List of medications
- Insurance Card
- A notepad or something to write down information
- Health questionnaires (Filled out if possible)
If you don’t have computer access- don’t worry! You can fill these out in our office when you come in for your consultation.
After a physical exam and review of your medical history, the doctor, physicist and dosimetrist plan your treatment. Before you start your treatment there are three steps: Simulation, Treatment planning and Set-up.
Simulation will involve a CT scan study which is used in your treatment planning. Depending on the type of cancer and treatments you will be receiving, body molds or other immobilization devices, that keep you from moving during treatment, may be made at this time. They will be used each time you have your treatment to ensure proper body positionig. Simulation may take about a half hour.
Treatment planning will be the next step. Once simulation has been done, your doctor will meet with the radiation physicist and dosimetrist to begin your treatment plan. Based on your medical history, lab test, x-ray, previous radiation, the location and the type of cancer you have, this will help decide how much radiation is needed and number of treatments. This process is very time consuming. A radiation dose is to be delivered to a to the targeted area but at the same time spare normal tissue is critical structures can only tolerate so much radiation. Some examples of critical structures can be lung, spinal cord and small bowel. This part of the process may take from a couple days to about a week to complete.
The final step is the Set-up. You will be positioned in the treatment room in the exact way you were positioned in the CT scan room. Using the plan approved by your doctor the radiation therapist will position you and take x-rays to comfirm the accuracy of the plan. The therapist will then mark your treatment area with permanent tattoos. It is important that the radiation be targeted to the same area each time. The tattoos help accomplish this.
You are now ready to begin your treatments. After you have started your treatments, you will see your doctor weekly, on clinic day. Please feel free to ask any questions at this time. Your therapist will be available daily to discuss your concerns and answer any questions you may have. Be sure to tell your therapist if you are having any side effects or if you notice anything unusual.
How Long are the Treatments?
For most types of cancer, radiation therapy is given 5 days a week for 2 – 8+ weeks. When radiation is used for palliative care, the course of treatment is often shorter – usually 2 to 3 weeks. The total dose of radiation and the number of treatments you need will depend on the size, location, and kind of cancer you have. Weekend rest breaks allow normal cells to recover.
It is very important that you have all of your scheduled treatments to get the most benefit from your therapy. (Breaks in treatments may sometimes be necessary)
Things to Remember:
- Radiation treatments are painless
- Radiation treatments do not make you radioactive
- Treatments are scheduled every day except Saturday, Sunday, and holidays
- You need to allow 30 min. for each treatment session, although the treatments may take only a few minutes
- It is important to get plenty of rest and to eat well-balanced diet during the course of your radiation treatments
- Skin in the treated areas may become sensitive and easily irritated
- ALWAYS feel free to ask any questions!
For more information and education, please contact the American Cancer Society or call our Radiology Oncology Department at (909) 335-5611 ext. 2.