What is the Actual Radiation Procedure Like?
Among the various cancer treatments, one of the most powerful is radiation. While radiation offers various advantages, it also comes with a daunting reputation. As a result, many people are curious about what exactly the radiation process will entail. While the procedure of radiation can differ between individuals, it tends to follow a certain path which is reviewed in this article.
Who You Can Expect to Be On Your Radiation Team
A team of medical professionals will be involved in making sure you receive appropriate care during radiation treatment. This treatment will include the following medical professionals:
- A radiation oncologist is a medical doctor who will see to the radiation treatment that you receive. This doctor will work in combination with other team members to create a treatment plan and will also make sure that you accurately receive treatment. Your radiation doctor will monitor your process and adjust treatment as required to make sure you receive the best care possible. Radiation oncologists can help you distinguish and address any side effects that you encounter during radiation treatment. These oncologists work in combination with other medical doctors including surgeons and all the other members of your team. These oncologists are the only types of doctors with experience providing radiation treatment.
- Radiation therapists work in combination with radiation oncologists to provide radiation following the doctor’s orders. These therapists keep daily records and routinely check radiation equipment to make sure that the equipment is in appropriate working order.
- Radiation oncology nurses work together with every other member of your medical team to make sure that you receive adequate care throughout the radiation process. These nurses can explain any side effects that you might encounter and can offer suggestions about how you can best manage these side effects. These nurses will also monitor how you do throughout treatment and will help you deal with any changes you encounter.
- Medical physicists work in combination with radiation oncologists while treatment is delivered. These physicists monitor the work performed by the dosimetrist and make sure that nuanced treatments are adequately personalized for each individual. These physicists created and run programs to ensure quality for both radiation equipment and radiation procedures. These physicists ensure that radiation equipment adequately works by taking a precise analysis of the equipment as well as routinely performing safety tests of the equipment.
- Dosimetrists work in combination with radiation oncologists and medical physicists to properly calculate radiation dosage to make sure that you receive the correct amount. Through the use of existing technology, dosimetrists make sure that they create the best possible treatment strategy to destroy your cancerous mass while keeping healthy tissue as intact as possible.
Besides these various medical professionals, some of the other types of workers who might be included in your treatment team include nutritionists, social workers, radiation engineers, patient navigators, and physical therapists as well as dentists and administrative staff. In situations where radiation is used in addition to other cancer treatments like chemotherapy, your medical team will often extend past radiation treatment members to also include other medical professionals.
What to Expect Leading Up to Radiation Treatment
When you first visit your medical team, they will assess your need for radiation as well as the likely results of such therapy. Your team will review your current medical issues as well as other factors including your medical history, medications you are taking, any existing allergies, and your lifestyle. You will also receive a physical examination to determine the staging of cancer and to assess your general physical shape. During this time, you might be seen by a nurse, a nurse practitioner, a resident, a physician’s assistant, or another medical team member.
Radiation is most effective when it is directly focused on a specific target each time that treatment is provided. The act of measuring your body and drawing guidelines on your skin to aid in focusing radiation beams on your body to meet the intended location is referred to as simulation. During simulation, your medical team will position you in the same way that you will be positioned when you receive radiation. Your medical team will then mark the area that will receive radiation by drawing directly on either your skin or the devices designed to keep you immobile. These immobilization pieces might include casts, headrests, molds, or other types of equipment that keeps you in the same position during treatment. The therapist will mark the immobilization equipment or your skin with a unique type of bright paint or small tattoos. A special treatment involving planning scans will be performed to help with simulation and treatment. These scans are used in addition to diagnostic imagery. Your medical team might request that radiation shields be created for you. These shields are placed in the path of radiation equipment before you receive treatment. What is referred to as multi-leaf collimators might also be utilized. Multi-leaf collimators are devices located in the head of radiation equipment and are used to alter the shape of beams and make sure that you safely receive radiation.
After you finish simulation, your medical team will assess the information received during simulation in addition to any medical testing you received while deciding on the plan of treatment. A treatment computer, as well as associated software, might be utilized to help create the best possible radiation plan. After a review of all these details, your medical team will write a prescription addressing how much radiation you should receive and what parts of your body should receive radiation.
Following approval of the radiation treatment plan by your medical team, the medical team will work together to make sure that your treatment plan works appropriately on the linear accelerator before the start of treatment. Sometimes a dry run is performed in the case of more nuanced treatments to make sure that the radiation strategy devised for you is accurate and safe.
What Happens During Radiation Treatment
Upon arrival at the medical facility where you receive radiation, you will change out of your clothing and place on a hospital gown. Next, you’ll be taken to the room where you receive treatment and will be brought to the treatment table. The medical professionals will then make sure you are in the appropriate position so that your position matches the lines drawn on your skin. Lead shields are routinely used to guard your healthy body parts including tissues and organs. These shields are positioned between the radiation equipment and the parts they are meant to protect. You must remain as still as possible during the treatment, which in most cases only lasts several minutes. The pain accompanying cancer is often sharp though and can be severe enough that it makes it challenging for a person to remain in what might be an unpleasant and painful position for any period. If you have difficulty remaining in one position, you will likely review a strategy with your medical team for you to receive some type of pain medication shortly before you receive radiation. This medication will help you better tolerate radiation while remaining in the position.
After all of the equipment is set up, the radiation technologist will exit the room and turn on the radiation equipment. The radiation technologist will remain in control of the equipment from a nearby room while monitoring the activities. The technologist will watch you through either a window or a television monitor while you receive the treatment. You will be able to talk to the technologist through a speaker system connecting the different rooms. Treatment machines often make noise while they move around your body. This is because these machines are attempting to reach the cancer from different angles. The technologist will remain in control of the equipment while they perform the scan. The noise made by radiation equipment often sounds like the whirring of a vacuum.
The amount of time you spend in this room varies but will range between ten minutes to a little over half an hour. Remember, during this time if you feel uncomfortable for any reason, the machine can be stopped.
You will feel no pain directly from the treatment. Much like an x-ray or other type of cancer, you also will be unable to either hear or see the radiation. If you have any concerns or do not feel well while you receive treatment, you should immediately let the technologist know.
You also might not need to miss appointments or work during the recovery period following radiation in the way that you would chemotherapy or other types of cancer treatment.
During the time that you receive radiation, the technologist might move the table on which you receive treatment or the radiation equipment to better target the beam at the site of cancer in your body. During this time, the machine might make noises, but your technologist will still be in complete control.
Your medical team might request that blood be drawn or that you receive other testing during radiation so they can assess how your body is reacting to the treatment. If the cancerous mass reduces substantially in size, you might not need additional treatment. On the other hand, if you end up developing side effects, radiation might need to be interrupted. Often these missed treatments are compensated for by adding additional treatment at the end.
You should do your absolute best to arrive at the location providing radiation treatment on time. You also should not miss treatment, which is scheduled Monday to Friday. Your radiation schedule will last anywhere between one to ten weeks. The length of your radiation schedule will be influenced by the size as well as type and location of your cancerous mass as well as other factors including your age and general health.
The radiation treatment you receive will be focused on the cancerous tumor as well as tissues surrounding the area because they might contain small cancer cells. This might then be followed by shrinkage of the tissue volume treated to the area of the cancerous mass itself because this might require a greater dosage to eliminate cancer cells. This is referred to as a boost.
Some people receive chemotherapy simultaneously with radiation. Chemotherapy and radiation might be delivered weekly, but can also be delivered at any other interval your medical team decides on. Chemotherapy sometimes acts to sensitize the cancerous cells in the area to radiation and might spread elsewhere in the body to destroy or reduce the size of cancerous cells. Your medical team will help to schedule the therapies around each to reduce side effects and maximize effectiveness.
What to Expect Weekly
While you receive radiation treatment, you will routinely meet with your medical team who will consider your condition which will include assessing whether you have side effects, suggesting ways to treat these side effects which often involve taking additional medication, and tackling any other issues that you might be facing. Your medical team might also make changes during treatment based on your reaction. Your medical team will meet on a routine basis with other health care experts as well to make sure that your treatment is proceeding in the planned manner. During these meetings, the medical team will review your process and any issues they might have.
Throughout treatment, the appropriate position of radiation beams will be confirmed through imagery made using the beam. This imagery which is referred to as beam films, port films, or portal verification represents a critical type of quality affirmation but does not assess the condition of the tumor. Based on the type of treatment that you receive, your medical team will use what they believe to be the best imagery. This imagery might include CT scans, ultrasound, or x-rays.
What to Expect After Treatment
After your radiation treatment has concluded, additional appointments will be arranged so your oncologist can confirm that you are recovering at a normal rate. Your medical team in combination with other team members might order additional testing. Reporting about your condition will be sent to other physicians who treat cancer. As time passes, the times that you must visit your radiation oncologist will go down in number. You should remember that your radiation team will be available whenever you need to speak with someone about the treatment that you are receiving.
How You Should Take Care of Yourself During Treatment
Taking care of yourself appropriately is critical during radiation and other types of cancer treatment. The degree to which you care for yourself will end up influencing the ease with which you pass through radiation and cancer treatment. Some of the most important types of strategies that you should follow to care for yourself during this challenging time include:
- Rest adequately. Many people encounter fatigue while receiving radiation. As a result, you should make sure to rest as much as possible. To make sure that you receive adequate rest, you might ask your loved ones to help you perform errands and care for yourself during this time. If you need additional help, request that your medical team provide you with information for cancer support groups. Even though it is critical to distinguish when you need rest, engaging in physical activity during this time can also help to lessen fatigue.
- Eat appropriately. Your medical team might help you ensure that you are eating appropriately to receive the necessary nutrients. With certain kinds of radiation, you might be required to alter your diet to reduce side effects. You should not try to lose weight during radiation treatment because you will need more calories due to your treatment.
- Follow your medical team’s recommendations. Your medical team will tell you to contact them if you develop a fever or experience other side effects. Make sure to read all of the literature that your medical team provides you with during treatment.
- Remain hydrated. Cancer treatments demand much from the body. You might be in particular danger of becoming dehydrated during treatment. Some of the helpful fluids that you should ingest include things like broth, water, and juice. Review what techniques you will follow to remain hydrated during treatment with your medical team.
- Treat radiated skin carefully. The portion of your body that receives radiation might end up becoming sensitive and red. Your medical team will review with you certain steps that you can follow to care for your skin. These steps include cleaning the area with warm water and soap, avoiding the use of perfumes or substances you place on your body during treatment, not placing hot or cold materials on your skin, and remaining out of the sun.
- Seek support. Emotional hardships are common to experience during cancer treatment. Many people end up feeling a range of emotions including anxiety, depression, and fear. It can help to discuss your feelings, but this might not always be the case. To locate a support group, you should contact your radiation nurse.