Radiation therapy can help you in your fight against cancer. It begins with a consultation with your doctor to discuss a treatment strategy. If radiation is indicated you will then return for a "simulation." The simulation is a planning session that helps the doctor target your cancer and design a radiation plan to protect normal tissues. After the simulation and plan are completed (anywhere from 1 to 7 days you will return for another verification session and then begin your daily treatments. Treatment is usually once daily Monday to Friday and takes less than a half an hour. Sometimes radiation is recommended twice a day usually 4 to 6 hours between treatments. After the course of radiation is complete you will be scheduled to return for follow up appointments to make sure the cancer is under control and any side effects that may have occurred during treatment are taken care of.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
Your radiation therapy team uses a special machine called a simulator to map out your treatment. The simulator is usually an X-ray machine (flouroscopy) or CT scanner (computerized tomography) or MRI scanner or PET-CT scanner machine. Laser lights act as guides to help position your body accurately. During this visit:
The best position for your body is determined. Notes are made in your chart so you’ll be placed the same way each time.
Special devices may be used to keep your body correctly positioned and still during treatment. These may include molds, masks, rests, and blocks.
Ink marks are made on your skin over the spot to be treated. Tiny permanent tattoos may also be used. The marks act as a target for the treatment to stay at the exact same place each time.
Markers, such as metal balls or wires, may be placed on or in your body. Sometime these are taped to this skin to help with the imaging process. These work with the X-rays to position your body. The markers are removed when the visit is over.
After the imaging and data are acquired the information is sent into the computer planning system for your doctor and their team of physicists, dosimetrists, to design a treatment field. The field will best target your cancer and its routes of spread while helping limit radiation to normal tissues nearby.
Each treatment usually takes 10 to 30 minutes. You may need to change into a hospital gown. The radiation therapist positions you on the treatment table, then leaves the room. Sometimes before each treatment delivery imaging will be obtained on the machine. The machine may take digital X-rays or a CT scan to help align you. During treatment, lie as still as you can and breathe normally. You will hear noises coming from the machine. You can talk to the radiation therapist, who watches you from the control room on a TV monitor. After treatment, the therapist will help you off the table. You can then get dressed and go back to your normal activities.