Radiation Oncology

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  • Radiation Frequently Asked Questions

    What should I expect at my first visit?

    Your first visit to our department will be for a consultation with our radiation oncology team. The team includes a nurse, a radiation oncologist (doctor), a nurse practitioner and a fellow (doctor). We also have dieticians and social workers available to help you if necessary.

    When you arrive our front desk staff will greet you and then gather some information to register you for your visit. They will also take a face photo and make an ID card that you will use throughout your treatment. Please remember to bring the card with you at each visit/treatment. If you do forget your card, we can issue a new one to you. After your first visit, each day that you come to our department, you will scan your card at the front desk in order to check in. Our front desk staff will show you how to do this.

    Next, the nurse will take your vital signs and ask you questions about your medications and medical history. It is important to remember to bring a list of all medications you currently are taking. The nurse also will give you educational materials about radiation therapy. If you think you may have problems with transportation to and from treatment or any lodging problems, please tell the nurse at this time so she may arrange for a social worker to help you.

    Next, you will meet with your doctor, a fellow and a nurse practitioner. They will review all of your tests/lab work/scans, obtain a health history and gather more information from you about your condition. They also will perform a physical exam and discuss treatment options with you. Your team also may order additional tests and/or scans at this time. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

    What is simulation?

    A simulation is a treatment planning step and not an actual treatment. Specially trained technologists, supervised by a radiation oncologist, perform the simulation. The procedure "simulates" or "mimics" the treatment machine. During this procedure, you will be asked to lie still on a table. During the simulation, the table will move back and forth and you may see red lights. Special treatment devices, such as a mask, may be used for your treatment. They are used to help immobilize and keep your body in the same position daily. If there is a need to use contrast or any markers for your simulation, your team will talk to you about this ahead of time. You will be required to lie still for the simulation and it generally lasts 20 to 30 minutes. If this will be difficult for you, please tell your radiation oncologist (doctor).

    Once the simulation is complete, the technologist will put some marks on your skin (unless you have a special mask or other device that the marks will be placed on). It is very important that these marks stay on throughout your treatment. They will be covered with a clear sticky bandage-type material to help you keep them. Please make every effort to keep these marks, to avoid having to have another simulation. The technician will then take photographs of you lying on the table; these photographs will be placed in your chart/computer to identify your marks and how you were set up to help ensure accuracy on the treatment machine.

    What is treatment planning?

    Treatment planning is performed on a special computer that takes the pictures gathered during the simulation and lets the doctor see them up close. Doctors use treatment planning to protect the healthy tissues that surround the cancer cells/tumor, and make sure the radiation is aimed at the targeted area (cancer cells). The doctor will work with the dosimetrist / physicist (treatment planners) to create your treatment plan.

    It may take several weeks to complete treatment planning. When it is complete, your doctors may ask you to return for verification before treatment begins.

    Once your treatment plan is verified, one of our radiation therapists will call you to schedule a time to begin your radiation. Your treatments will be every day, Monday-Friday, for several weeks.

    What is radiation?

    Radiation, or radiotherapy, is a type of treatment used in cancer management. Radiation uses high-dose energy to kill cancer cells and help prevent them from spreading to other areas of your body. It may be used alone, or in combination with chemotherapy and/or surgery to treat cancer. Sometimes, when a cure is not possible, radiation also may be used to help alleviate symptoms, such as pain and discomfort.

    What are the different types of radiation?

    There are two main types of radiation - external beam radiation and internal radiation.

    External beam radiation, the most common form, is radiation delivered by a machine to your body from the outside. The treatment is painless, and consists of lying on a table while the machine moves and aims the radiation at the targeted area.

    Internal radiation, also known as brachytherapy, is delivered in the form of seeds, applicators or radioactive substances, which are placed inside your body. Your doctor will decide if internal or external radiation is best for you and your situation.

    What kinds of cancer can be treated with radiation?

    Radiation can be used to treat many types of cancers, such as malignancies of the lung, brain, bone and breast. Doctors on your cancer care treatment team will discuss whether radiation may help you and bring you their recommendation.