The Radiation Therapy Process
Your radiation oncology team is here to serve you and to assist you in successfully completing your radiation treatment. This information will help you understand the various steps you will go through in your treatment process.
During your initial consultation with your doctor, he or she will discuss your cancer and the type(s) of radiation treatments available. They will also discuss the length of treatment and possible side effects. This is also a good time to bring up any questions you might have about your radiation treatment. At the end of your consultation you will usually be scheduled for a simulation or planning session and a consent for treatment will be obtained.
The first step in planning your treatment is a C.T (CT Scan) simulation which locates your cancer in relation to your body position. This may or may not involve the use of contrast material given through an I.V. It also could involve placing a catheter in your bladder or rectum. A positioning device such as a cradle or head holder (often called a mask) may be made for you at this time. Following this, the therapist may mark your skin with dye or “tattoos”. These marks are used to line up the machine for your daily treatment. Specially designed “blocks” may also be designed to shield healthy tissue.
This careful planning is done to limit the amount of radiation to your normal tissue and usually takes from 30 minutes to 2 hours. At the end of the simulation session you may receive an appointment card telling you when you should come for the next step – validation – usually 3 to 10 days after your planning session.
During the time between your simulation session and validation, the physics staff along with your radiation oncologist will design a treatment plan just for you based on the information obtained during the CT simulation.
Physician Approval of Plan
Once the plan is complete, your radiation oncologist will approve the plan, sign the prescription for the treatment and you will be ready for your validation.
This will be your first day in the room where you will be treated. You will be placed on the treatment table using any positioning devices made for you. The therapists will line the machine up using the plan and take x-rays (port films) or verification CT scans. The machine will rotate around and films will be taken from various angles. These films will then be evaluated, compared to the plan and adjustments made by your radiation oncologist prior to your first treatment.
Treatment/Boost/Weekly Port Films
You will be given a daily treatment time and should come at the same time every day (Monday through Friday) unless notified otherwise. If you need a different time, talk to your therapists about your schedule. Your radiation oncologist will determine the number of treatments you will receive. You may receive a few additional, more focused treatments at the end called a “boost”. This may require an additional planning session – CT Simulation. The treatments usually take between 5 and 10 minutes but you need to allow additional time for changing clothes and positioning.
If you are receiving IMRT (intensity modulated radiation therapy) the treatments take longer. The treatment machine can be noisy. Ask for ear plugs if you need them. For some patients X-rays called port films will be taken once a week during your treatment to ensure everything is matching the plan. For other patients, port films or other verification images may be taken more often, sometimes daily. Your weight will also be checked once a week.
Weekly Checks/Patient Education
During your treatment, a nurse will see you once a week to provide education and teaching about any side effects you are having and also answer any questions. Your radiation oncologist will also see you once a week to check on your progress and address any concerns you may have.
On your last day of treatment you may be seen by your radiation oncologist and/or an appointment for follow up will be given.
This is a good day for celebration!!
Many of the radiation oncologists want to see their patients about 3 months after you complete your treatment. However, this may vary based on your needs and your physician’s preference. At this visit your physician will let you know about further follow-up appointments.