What is radiation therapy anyway?
Radiation therapy is one of the most common ways to treat cancer. Depending on the type and nature of cancer being treated will depend on what method radiation is delivered to your tumor. Most commonly, a linear accelerator is used to deliver external beam therapy. LINAC machines deliver radiation directly to your tumor, externally.
How does radiation therapy work?
When radiation is delivered using a linear accelerator it is delivered to both cancerous cells and healthy cells. Radiation affects cancerous cells more than healthy cells. The highest possible dose of radiation is delivered to kill off the cancerous cells. Smaller doses can be delivered when the aim of treatment is to reduce the size of the cancerous tumor and relieve the symptoms.
Who plans and delivers your treatment?
Cancer oncologists will create a plan of treatment for patients. When the treatment that is planned requires radiation, a radiation oncologist will oversee the treatment and delivery of radiation. A team of cancer experts including nurses, specialists, counselors, dieticians, and assistants will help guide you throughout your treatment.
How is your treatment planned?
All cancer treatments are designed with the patient, the type of, and size of cancer. Radiation therapy is no different. Before radiation treatment is given patients will visit the facility to go over the plan of treatment that has been designed specifically for them. Radiation oncologists and radiation therapists will develop a plan based on x-rays and scans from simulators. Marks are then placed in strategic locations to pin point the areas to be treated. These marks will be placed each and every visit as the cancerous tumor changes. For cancers that are in the head, a guidance mask is created from a mold of the patients heads and is used to stabilize and pin point treatment due to the sensitivity of the area.
Does radiation therapy require hospitalization?
Radiation therapy is most often done on an outpatient basis however in some situations your radiation oncologist may recommend that you be admitted if they think it would enhance the success of your treatment. This is rare and usually does not occur as long as you are able to travel to and from the hospital for treatment.
What tests are performed in conjunction with radiation therapy?
Over the course of radiation treatment your oncologist will want to perform a number of follow up scans and x-rays to make sure the cancer is reacting to the radiation as expected. Occasionally additional lab work is required and is considered normal and nothing to worry about.
In our next installment on radiation therapy we will look deeper into what you can and cannot do during treatment and ways to combat side effects and more.
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