There are many steps that need to be taken in the treatment of cancer. With advancements in technology and the use of equipment such as CT scanners and linear accelerators cancer is more treatable than ever before. The treatment of cancer varies slightly depending on the type of cancer being treated however the steps involved in the process remain virtually the same throughout.
Consultation: When a patient is first diagnosed with cancer and radiation is needed patients will make an appointment to meet with a radiation oncologist for a consultation. During this visit the patient’s medical history will be reviewed at great lengths. Recommendations will be discussed so that a plan for radiation treatment can be formed.
Simulations: The next step involved in radiation therapy as part of a treatment plan for cancer is simulation. This is the visit in which patients will be positioned for treatment. It is important that treatment positioning is done to determine how the body should lay during treatment to best target the tumor. Often immobilization devices are designed to mold to a patient to allow them to easily be positioned for treatment. Medical immobilization devices are not always needed for radiation therapy.
During simulations x-rays and CT scans are performed to compare the tumors location to the location of the healthy tissue surrounding it. Often times contrasting material is used to allow technicians to visualize certain landmarks that would not otherwise be visible. These are removed after the x-ray is taken and in their places small markings are left on the skin to allow visual representation for treatment the following day.
Planning: Radiation oncologists, physics staff and dosimetrists are all three linked in the treatment planning process. Radiation oncologists design the field for treatment using the x-ray images that were obtained during the simulation process. The physics staff is in charge of shaping the radiation beams that are to be used in treatment to prevent the healthy tissue from being damaged while targeting the cancerous tumor.
Along with computer technology the dosimetrist and radiation oncologist work together to determine the best dose of radiation for the treatment field selected. This process may take more than one visit. The goal being that each day the same treatment field is receiving the needed radiation without damaging healthy, surrounding tissues while not over treating the tumor.
Treatment: Radiation treatments themselves do not hurt. It is however crucial to have the patient remains completely still throughout the entire treatment process which often can be difficult.
Typical Treatment Day: During treatment the radiation patient will check in at the reception desk. They will then be escorted into the treatment room where the clothing that is covering the area that is to be treated is uncovered. Patients are made comfortable, shielding is set in place, therapists place the linear accelerator and the appropriate does is given. Once this is complete the patient is free to leave.
Side Effects of Radiation: The most common side effects in radiation therapy are exhaustion, loss of energy and skin tenderness. Most often skin irritation only occurs at the area where the treatment is being administered. Other side effects such as hair loss, sore throat, coughing, nausea and vomiting can occur but are not as common. It is good to note that most side effects will usually resolve themselves in four to six weeks after completing treatment.
Aftercare: In any surgery or procedure the support before and during are as equally as important as the support and care the patient receives after. A crucial element in the recovery process after radiation therapy is to keep you radiation oncologist keyed in on changes to your health. It is also important that the patient stay on track with the scheduled treatment plan to avoid having a negative impact on the outcome goal.
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