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Radiation Therapy

What Happens If I Need Radiation Therapy?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 12:37

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

If you need radiation therapy, you may have to travel to a larger hospital or freestanding radiation therapy center. When medically possible, external beam radiation can be provided on an outpatient basis. Patients usually require a short hospital stay for internal radiation.

You may be sent to a radiation oncologist for a consultation. A radiation oncologist is a specialist who prescribes the type and amount of treatment that is right for you. During this visit, you and the doctor will discuss

  • The type of cancer you have and treatment options
  • Your medical history
  • Any medications you may be taking, if you have any allergies, or if you are using alternative or complementary therapies (supplements, herbal therapies)
  • How the treatment might affect your normal activities
  • Why this method was chosen over other available options
  • Any side effects that may occur

Before any treatment begins, you will undergo a physical exam and possibly more tests or x-rays.

Planning Your Treatment

Once radiation therapy is chosen as a treatment option, the radiation oncologist begins planning your treatment. He or she works closely with a medical radiation physicist, who ensures linear accelerators and other equipment deliver the proper amount of radiation, and a dosimetrist, who has special training in planning radiation therapy sessions.

Patients can receive external beam radiationinternal radiation (brachytherapy), or both. The radiation oncologist will plan out the total dose of radiation, which is divided into the smaller doses you will receive over the coming weeks.

The total dose of radiation and the number of treatments depend on:

  • The size, location, and type of cancer you have
  • Your overall health
  • Other medical treatments you may be receiving

Simulation

If you will be receiving external radiation therapy, you will undergo a process called simulation. Using CT scans, computers, and precise measurements, this highly detailed process maps out the exact location where the radiation will be targeted. This area is called the treatment field or port.

Your skin may be marked with small points that target the area to be treated. This process usually takes 30 minutes to two hours and is an essential part of treatment planning.

Radiation Therapy