St. Mary's Radiation Oncology - What to Expect
Here is a step-by-step breakdown of what to expect when you come to Radiation Oncology:
The First Visit
Check in at the front desk. You will be asked to complete patient history forms and insurance forms.
Vital Signs Taken
The nurse will take you to an exam room where she will review your medical history with you and get your vital signs – temperature, pulse, blood pressure.
Radiation Oncologist Reviews Your History, Discusses Treatment
The radiation oncologist then will meet with you and your family. The doctor will review your medical history and discuss your cancer, treatment plan, side effects of treatment, and prognosis. If you and the doctor agree on the treatment plan, you may start the process called simulation that same day. Or you may make a separate appointment for the simulation.
You will be asked to lie very still on an x-ray table while the radiation therapist and the doctor take several x-rays, scans, and measurements to define the actual tumor area on your body where the radiation will be aimed. Simulation may take from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Your Skin Is Marked
The radiation therapist will mark the treatment port on your skin with ink markings. It is important that these markings stay on your skin, so if they start to fade, tell the radiation therapists so they can re-mark them.
Your Radiation Treatment Is Planned
The Radiation Oncologist and the team will plan your treatment with the most advanced treatment planning computer equipment in the US.
The doctor will decide how much radiation is needed, the type of radiation, and the best kind of machine to deliver it.
How Long Will Treatment Take?
For most types of cancer, radiation therapy usually is given 5 days a week for 6 to 7 weeks.
The total dose of radiation and the number of treatments you need will depend on:
- the size, location, and kind of cancer you have
- your general health
- other medical treatments you may be receiving
The radiation beam is only on for 2 - 3 minutes. Most of the treatment time is devoted to getting you in the treatment room and positioned accurately under the treatment machine.
The Treatment Visits
1. You change into a gown.
Before each treatment, you may need to change into a hospital gown or robe. It’s best to wear clothing that’s easy to take off and put on again.
2. You are positioned for treatment.
In the treatment room, the radiation therapist will use the marks on your skin to locate the treatment area and to position you correctly. You may lie down on a treatment table.
3. You are asked to remain still.
The radiation therapist may put special shields (or blocks) between the machine and certain parts of your body to help protect normal tissues and organs. There might also be thermoplastic or Vac-Lok molds to help you stay in exactly the right place.
You need to remain very still during the treatment so that the radiation reaches only the area where it’s needed and the same area is treated each time. You don’t have to hold your breath – just breathe normally.
4. The radiation therapy begins.
The radiation therapist will leave the treatment room before your treatment begins. You will be observed while you are in the room by two cameras. The therapist will watch both monitors to ensure you are holding still and are not in need of assistance.
There is also audio equipment. If you would like the treatment to stop for any reason, just tell the therapist. He or she will hear you at the control desk.
Receiving external radiation is painless, just like having an x-ray taken. You will not hear, see, or smell the radiation. You will, however, hear the noises of the machine as it moves around your body to aim at the treatment area from different angles. You will also hear the machine buzz while the radiation is being delivered to the treatment site.
If you should feel ill or uncomfortable during the treatment, tell your therapist at once. The machine can be stopped at any time.
You will be in the treatment room for about 15 to 30 minutes, but you will only be getting radiation for about 2 to 3 minutes.
One day each week, you will meet the radiation oncologist and the nurse to discuss how you are feeling. They may also check your blood count weekly during treatment – although radiation usually does not affect the blood counts like chemotherapy does.
Remember, the doctor and nurse are always there and available to you and your family should you have a question or concern.
Side effects are very specific to the treatment site. The physician and the nurse will discuss these during the consult.
Once radiation therapy is completed, the doctor will see you in one month, then every 3-6 months for a year and then as needed.