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What to Expect When Having Radiation Therapy

It is overwhelming to learn that you have cancer. When your physician informs you that you need radiation therapy, the feeling worsens. What you have heard about the treatment and your expectation can frighten you. However, knowing what to expect during the treatment can help you to relax. Here is some helpful information on radiation therapy.

The Radiation Therapy Team

A highly experienced medical team will provide care.

  1. A radiation oncologist – The specialist oversees the entire process and works with other specialists to determine the best treatment plan.
  2. Medical radiation physicist –Helps to design treatment plans and is an expert at operating radiation equipment.
  3. Radiation therapy technologist or radiation therapist – Runs the treatment machines and gives patients their planned treatment.
  4. Radiation oncology nurse – The nurse cares for you before, during, and after the treatment.
  5. Dosimetrist – Assists the radiologist to calculate the required dose of radiation.
  6. Other health professionals include dietitians, social workers, dentists, and rehabilitation therapists.

Procedure Before Treatment

It would help if you met with your radiation oncologist before the treatment begins. The specialist will review your records, perform a physical exam, and recommend necessary tests. You will also sign an informed consent form. Ask any questions that you have concerning the treatment.

Your first therapy session is a simulation, so you will not receive any treatment. Your care team will identify the location of the tumor during the simulation. Since you need to be in the same position throughout the treatment, the team fits you with an immobilization device. Your care team develops a treatment plan after the simulation.

During the Procedure

It depends on the radiation therapy that you receive.

External beam radiation – It is the most common therapy. An entire session takes 15 minutes, but you must have at least five treatment sessions per week. It does not sting, hurt,or burn. Other side effects build up with time, so your care team plans a treatment break every week to give your body time to repair.

Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy) – It is a combination of permanent and temporary radioactive sources on the tumor site. The treatment may require you to be in the hospital for a few days. As the surgeon places the radioactive sources into your body, they may also use anesthesia to protect you from pain.

Nausea and weakness are some of the common effects of the treatment. Other expected symptoms include sensitivity at the site of radiation, emotional distress, and fatigue.

Your radiologist will inform you of the safety precautions to take after the procedure. The radiation oncologist will monitor your progress every week. How do you take care of yourself during radiation therapy?

  • Have sufficient rest
  • Seek emotional help whenever needed
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Protect your skin from direct sunlight
  • Stay hydrated
  • Apply approved lotion to skin affected by radiation

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