Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high energy radiation to kill cancer cells. The term "radiation therapy" most often refers to external beam radiation therapy. During this type of radiation, the high-energy beams come from a machine called a linear accelerator. The linear accelerator directs the radiation in a precise shape that targets the tumor inside your body; this machine does not touch or come close to your body.. As you lie on a table, the linear accelerator moves around you to deliver radiation from several angles. The linear accelerator can be adjusted for your particular situation so that it delivers the precise dose of radiation your doctor has ordered. You'll lie still and breathe normally during the treatment, which takes only a few minutes.
Radiation therapy damages cancer cells by destroying the genetic material that controls how cells grow and divide. While both healthy and cancerous cells are damaged by radiation therapy, the goal of radiation therapy is to destroy as few normal, healthy cells as possible. Doctors use radiation therapy to treat just about every type of cancer. Radiation therapy is also useful in treating some noncancerous (benign) tumors. Side effects of radiation therapy greatly depend on which part of your body is being exposed to radiation and how much radiation is used. You may experience no side effects, or you may experience several. Most side effects are temporary, can be controlled and generally disappear over time once treatment has ended.
Staff personnnel called radiation therapists will actually prepare you for the radiation treatment. Once you are prepared they will leave the room but will monitor you constantly via microphone and video camera.
Before you undergo external beam radiation therapy, you undergo a planning process to ensure that radiation reaches the precise spot in your body where it's needed. Planning typically includes:
- Radiation simulation: During simulation you'll lie on the same type of table that's used during radiation therapy. Positioning aides are used to position you in the right way and to help you hold still. The therapist then performs a CT ( computed tomography ) for planning purposes. Your radiation therapy team will mark the area of your body that will receive the radiation. To ensure that your position is reproducible daily, you will receive permanent tattoos to assist your radiation therapist in positioning you for your treatments.
Planning: After the simulation, the planning team, which consists of the dosimetrist, physicist and the physician, decide what type of radiation and what dose you'll receive based on your type and stage of cancer, your general health, and the goals for your treatment. The precise dose and focus of radiation beams used in your treatment is carefully planned to maximize the radiation to your cancer cells and minimize the harm to surrounding healthy tissue.
You typically receive external beam radiation on an outpatient basis five days a week. Treatments are usually spread out over several weeks to allow your healthy cells to recover in between radiation therapy sessions. Expect each treatment session to last approximately 10 to 30 minutes. In some cases, a single treatment may be used to help relieve pain or other symptoms associated with more advanced cancers.
The Radiation Oncology team here at Gibson Cancer Center consists of a group of very qualified and dedicated professionals whose main concern is delivering the most effective treatment plan for your specific disease process. There are four radiation therapists, a medical dosimetrist, medical physicist, nurse, nursing assistant, radiation oncologist, and radiation oncology manager. Combined, these individuals possess almost 100 years of experience fighting cancer.