Understand Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy X-rays to treat cancer. These are therapeutic X-rays, which are different from diagnostic X-rays. Radiation can be an effective cancer treatment and is designed to prevent cancer cells from growing and multiplying. The goal is to slow or stop tumor growth and, in many cases, completely destroy the tumor.
Your radiation therapy treatment is administered in stages. You’re supported by experienced professionals and caregivers along the way.
What are the steps to radiation therapy treatment?
- Your first visit. This is a consultation to discuss your cancer and treatment options with your radiation oncologist. This is a time to ask questions. If possible, bring a family member.
- Simulation. Your radiation oncologist uses X-ray equipment called a “simulator” to aid in your treatment plan. Sometimes, a non-toxic dye is injected in order to outline certain organs. Prior to the simulation, your radiation therapist places you into a special positioning device that will hold your body still during treatment.
- Planning marks. During your simulation, you’re given either small black permanent marks, about the size of a freckle, or similarly sized semi-permanent marks. These marks create a focal point for the radiation treatment machine so treatment can be given to precisely the same spot each time.
- Receiving treatments. A machine called a “linear accelerator” provides your therapeutic radiation dosages. You’ll lie on a table, sometimes shielded by protective blocks, and will be raised under the linear accelerator. The treatment machine will move to a predetermined position and apply the radiation treatment. You won’t feel or see the radiation. Expect weekly assessments while you’re given treatment to see how your body responds.
- Follow-up care. It’s extremely important to schedule regular exams after you’ve finished your radiation treatment. This may include blood work and X-rays. Continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle after your treatment is complete.
What are the side effects of radiation therapy? Side effects differ, depending on the treatment area. The most common are fatigue and skin irritation. Your doctor or nurse will discuss ways to prevent or minimize these effects with you, including nutrition for managing fatigue.
There are numerous radiation technology options. Your radiation oncologist will identify the most effective course of radiation therapy for you. ProMedica Cancer Institute offers these varieties of specialty radiation technologies and more that target (but are not limited to) the following conditions:
- Patients who require treatment quickly using photon conformal radiation therapy.
- Treatment of superficial skin or lymph node tumors using electron radiation therapy.
- Tumors occurring in the head, neck, brain, prostate, and gastrointestinal system using intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) or, for shorter delivery time, volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT).
- Small tumors in the lung and liver using stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT).
- Brain and spinal tumors using stereotactic radiosurgery.
- Gynecological cancers such as of the cervix, endometrium, and breast using high dose rate brachytherapy.
Your treatments are planned by your radiation oncologist and medical physicist and administered by radiation therapists.
Continue your normal lifestyle and daily activities, eat well, and get plenty of rest. Do not apply any salves, direct heat or cold pads or packs, lotions, or other self-remedies to the skin treatment area unless recommended by your doctor.
Seek support and share your feelings with family and friends, as well as caregivers. Also rely on your social worker and patient support groups.