Radiation Treatment: What to Expect
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Radiation Treatment: What to Expect

Radiation Treatment: What to Expect

Initial appointment
When you first come to CarePoint Health Radiation Oncology Associates, you will meet with the radiation oncologist. Bringing a spouse, or another family member or friend, is strongly encouraged as they can help with questions or take notes for you.

Your radiation oncologist is the specialist best qualified to work with you to assess whether radiation therapy could be a beneficial treatment option. At your appointment, your doctor will:

  • Review medical records pertinent to your cancer, including past medical history, current medications, allergies, social history and family history.
  • Perform a physical exam that will help assess the extent of your cancer and judge your general physical condition so that we can estimate any influence it may have over your response to radiation therapy.
  • Review the details of treatment, if radiation therapy is recommended, including the duration of treatment and potential side effects.

Work-up
At times, we need additional information to decide the relative advantages of radiation therapy or to prepare you for treatment itself. We may arrange for tests such as:

  • CT, MRI, and PET scans to determine if a tumor has spread to a regional lymph node basin or to a distant part of the body.
  • Blood tests to help determine how well you are likely to tolerate treatment.
  • Tests to see precisely where your various internal organs are placed in three-dimensional space.

Simulation
Radiation therapy must be aimed precisely (within millimeters, despite breathing and movement) at the same target every time treatment is given. Simulation is the process of measuring your anatomy and marking your skin in ways that help us guide the beams of radiation safely and exactly to their intended locations.

During the simulation session, your radiation therapist will create immobilization devices to help ensure that the radiation treatment is delivered consistently from day to day. Using these devices, you will undergo a special CT scan to map the area to be treated so that your oncology team can plan your treatment.

After the scan, your therapist will put permanent freckle-like tattoo marks on your skin. These markings will also help ensure that your radiation therapy is consistent over the course of treatment.

Treatment planning
As treatment plans have become more sophisticated, the ability to cure tumors has improved. Much of this success is directly attributable to the use of sophisticated computer systems operated by highly trained, full-time dedicated medical physicists. Your radiation oncologist and your medical physicist will create a plan that will include treating all of your tumor and as little normal tissue as possible within the “envelope of irradiation.”

All treatment plans must be reviewed and approved by the radiation oncologist, in writing, before they can be used in a patient’s care. The calculations used in treatment planning are only as reliable as the attention to detail paid by the people performing them. As part of our dedication to quality, all our calculations are independently double-checked by two medical physicists before a patient receives even one fraction of treatment.

Verification simulation
Once your radiation plan has been created, you will return for a verification simulation, a sort of “dry run” for your treatment. Your radiation therapist will take images on the machine that your physician will review to ensure that the area to be treated coincides with the radiation plan.

Treatment
After a successful verification simulation, you may begin treatment as soon as the next day. Radiation treatment is typically every day, Monday through Friday. You can expect to spend roughly 20–30 minutes in the department, with the actual treatment taking as little as 10 minutes depending on the site and nature of the treatment. Treatment can range from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.

Weekly status checks
You radiation oncologist will meet with you every week to assess your progress and discuss your concerns. Your physician will also examine you to determine if you are experiencing any side effects. Your original treatment plan may be adjusted to address your changing condition. If you need any additional services and medications, your doctor will prescribe them at this time.

Follow-up care
We consider aftercare a critical component of our services because the full effects of radiation therapy typically occur after treatment is complete. During each of your follow-up visits, your physician will review any changes in your condition and will examine you to assess the status of your disease and the health of your normal tissues. If additional action is required, we will arrange it or prescribe needed medications. As time goes on, the frequency of your visits may decrease if you are feeling well, but we will still be available when you need us.

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