Patient Education Animation Video
Radiation therapy is simply the use of high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells by interfering with their ability to reproduce. Radiation therapy is an effective treatment for many kinds of cancer. The two main goals of radiation therapy are to cure the cancer or to relieve symptoms. Radiation can be used to cure cancer, control the growth or spread of cancer and to provide comfort by alleviating the symptoms cancer can sometimes cause.
Most radiation therapy treatments are delivered by a machine called a linear accelerator which generates the high energy x-rays used to kill cancer cells. The amount of radiation each patient receives is determined by his or her physician (radiation oncologist) and is based on current information about how much radiation is needed to damage and kill the particular type of cancer involved. Also taken into consideration is the location of the tumor and the sensitivity of surrounding normal tissues to the radiation. Patient safety and welfare are always top priorities in planning radiation therapy treatments.
Simulation is the process the Radiation Oncologist uses to determine where he or she wants the radiation to enter the body. The Simulator has the same geometry as a treatment unit, but uses regular x-rays to make better x-ray films. Then from these films, the shape of the desired treatment area is outlined.
At the same time, information is gathered to determine the shape of the patient. This information can be supplemented by data from a CT scan. The CT scan must be done in the exact position in which the patient is treated. Usually it is done separately from the simulation, but there are machines that do both the CT and the simulation.
At the end of the simulation the patient has some sort of skin marks, either tattoos or paint, that identifies for the Radiation Therapists how to set up the treatment field.
The information from the simulation is also given to the Physicist and Dosimetrist. They take the data and the images and using a treatment planning computer, determine exactly how much radiation the Radiation Oncologist wants to deliver to the treatment area. The computer generates a detailed description of the distribution of the x-rays throughout the treatment area. With all this information the patient is ready to be treated.
The x-rays that are used to treat the patient are generated from a Linear Accelerator. There are no radioactive parts. The x-rays are generated from high energy particles hitting a metal target and then directed out of the machine in a controlled shape.
The patient lies flat on a hard table. The table can move in many directions. The patient is moved into the proper location for treatment during simulation.
There is no sensation during treatment. The x-rays are usually on for two or three minutes. Depending on how many different angles from which the radiation is delivered, the patient may be in the treatment room for 10 to 20 minutes.
Treatments are given by Radiation Therapists. Radiation Therapists are licensed specialists who are trained to deliver the radiation and help with the daily care of the patients.
During radiation treatment it is important to take special care of yourself. Your physician will advise you on specifics related to your treatment. Here are some general suggestions:
Be sure to get plenty of rest: You may feel more tired than normal because your body is using a lot of energy to fight a disease. Sleep as often as you feel the need. Fatigue may last four to six weeks after your treatment ends.
Try to eat a balanced diet to prevent weight loss: Depending on the area of the body that will receive radiation (for example, the abdomen or pelvic area), your doctor or nurse may recommend changes in your diet.
Avoid wearing tight clothes: Including girdles, pantyhose, or close-fitting collars over treatment areas. Instead, wear loose, soft cotton clothing and avoid starching your clothes.
Do not rub, scrub, or use adhesive tape on treated skin: If bandaging is necessary, use paper tape. Try to apply the tape outside the area of treatment.
Do not apply heat or cold (heating pad, ice pack, etc) to the treatment area without first talking with your physican: Even hot water can hurt your skin, so use only lukewarm water for bathing the treated area.
Do not use a pre-shave, after-shave lotion or hair-removal product: Use an electric shaver if you must shave the area, but only after checking with your physician.
Protect the treatment area from the Sun: If possible, cover treated skin with light-colored clothing before going outside. Ask your physician if you should use a lotion that contains sun block.
Managing Side Effects
Brief, high doses of radiation damage or destroy cancer cells, but they also can hurt normal cells, causing side effects. Many patients have no side effects at all, but some patients do have side effects associated with the treatment area. Although unpleasant, most side effects are not serious and can be controlled with medication or diet.
Side effects vary from patient to patient and will depend mostly on the treatment dose and the part of the body that is treated. Your general health also can effect how your body reacts to radiation therapy and whether you have side effects. The Radiation Oncology physician will discuss with you before treatment any side effects you may experience with your particular treatment course.
The most common side effects are fatigue, skin changes, and some loss of appetite. Other side effects usually are related to the treatment of specific areas, such as hair loss following radiation treatment to the head.
Fortunately, most side effects will go away in time. In the meantime, there are ways to reduce the discomfort they cause. If you have a reaction that is particularly severe, the doctor may prescribe a break in your treatments or change the kind of treatment you’re receiving. It is not usually desirable to interrupt a course of radiation therapy because the delay may decreased the treatment’s effectiveness.
Tell your doctor or radiation therapist about any side effects you notice so they can help you treat the problems.