Radiation therapy, also called therapeutic radiology or radiation oncology, is a non-surgical form of cancer treatment. It uses special kinds of energy waves or particles to "attack" cancer cells. Certain levels of radiation work to eliminate cancer cells or prevent cells from growing or reproducing. Radiation therapy may be used to treat cancer, control the disease or help relieve symptoms.
What Happens Before and During Radiation Therapy
Consultation with the Radiation Oncologist
During your first visit, the radiation oncologist, a cancer doctor who has special training and certification in radiation medicine, will evaluate the need for radiation therapy as a treatment for cancer and its likely results and possible side effects. After performing a physical examination and reviewing any applicable medical tests, which may include lab work and imaging /X-rays, the radiation oncologist will review the options for therapy.
Radiation therapy must be aimed precisely at the same target(s) each time treatment is given. Simulation is the treatment stage when a unique treatment plan is designed specifically for each patient. During simulation, patients may be given special positioning devices. This ensures that patients receive the most precise treatment every time. During the simulation, the therapist will mark specific areas on the skin to aid in your daily set-up. This first simulation usually takes between 30 to 60 minutes and is completely painless.
A great level of planning and calculations go into each treatment plan. The medical physics team at Renown Institute for Cancer includes doctors, physicists and dosimetrists, all of whom are specially trained in radiation and its effect on the body. They all work closely in designing and monitoring the treatment of patients, as well as assuring all the technical components of the care are correct. The medical physics team and the radiation oncologist review the information from the simulation to create a unique treatment plan for each patient.
Different Types of Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is given through different methods, depending on the type of cancer, the location of the cancer and the patient's health. Radiation therapy may also be used in combination with other treatments, including surgery.
The two main types of Radiation Therapy are:
With external radiation (external beam therapy), radiation is administered by a large machine that points the energy waves directly at the tumor. The radiation therapist helps position the patient before each treatment supervises each treatment based on the patient's unique treatment plan. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes.
With internal radiation (brachytherapy, implant radiation), a high dose of radiation is given inside the body as close to the cancer as possible. The radiation treatment may be swallowed, injected or implanted directly into the tumor. Some of the radioactive implants are called "seeds" or "capsules." Internal radiation involves administering a higher dose of radiation in a shorter time span when compared with external radiation. Some internal radiation treatments stay in the body temporarily while others stay in the body permanently, although the radioactive substance loses its radiation within a short period of time. In some cases, both internal and external radiation therapies may be used.