What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radiation to treat cancer. Types of radiation used include x-rays, radioactive isotopes, and electrons. Radiation is used to treat cancer because it interferes with the ability of cells to grow and multiply. Healthy tissues have more resistance to radiation and more power to repair after being exposed to radiation. The goal of radiation therapy is to eliminate the cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue. Radiation only affects the tissues directly in its path.
How is radiation therapy given?
There are two ways to give radiation therapy. In one, external beam therapy, radiation is generated by a machine called a linear accelerator and carefully targeted to a specific area of the body. In the other, radiation is administered internally by placing radioactive substances in body cavities or tissue.
Who will give me treatments?
A licensed radiation therapist will deliver your daily treatments based on a prescription and plan created by your physician, the radiation oncologist.
Will I feel anything during treatment?
No. The radiation treatment is painless.
How long will my treatment take each day?
Treatments take anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes depending on the type of treatment and the area being treated.
What is the average number of treatments?
The number of treatments differs from patient to patient depending on the diagnosis, stage and other factors. Your treatment plan is carefully designed for your individual needs. The most important consideration is determining the total amount of radiation that can be administered without permanently impairing the ability of the neighboring healthy tissues to heal. Your radiation oncologist determines the actual number of treatments. It is not unusual for this number to change during the course of treatment.
What is the treatment schedule?
Most patients receive radiation therapy five times per week, Monday through Friday. Weekends are reserved as a rest period for normal tissue to recover. It is also possible that you may need a longer rest period. If this occurs, the time needed to complete the treatments may be extended. In some cases, patients may receive two treatments daily; twice daily treatments must be at least six hours apart.
What happens during the treatments?
During treatments, you will lie on a narrow, firm table. The linear accelerator is situated so that it can rotate around you. It is important that you not move at all during set up and treatment. You should breathe normally during your treatment. After the therapist properly positions you, he or she will leave the room. A closed circuit TV and intercom allow the therapist to see and hear you during the treatment. Although the machine generally does not touch you, there may be sounds or movement while you receive your radiation therapy.
What are the side effects of radiation treatment?
The side effects of radiation therapy depend on the radiation dose and the area being treated. Many patients will complete their therapy with few or no side effects at all. Generally, the side effects of treatment are limited to the area being treated. You will notice, however, that you may tire more easily when you are getting treatment. Radiation therapy can cause a decrease in the number of white blood cells and platelets in a patient's blood. If this is a possible effect for your treatment, you will need periodic blood tests which your physician will monitor. Before you begin treatment, your radiation oncologist will explain all of the common side effects to you. If you notice anything unusual or are experiencing some of the mentioned side effects, tell your physician or nurse. Many of these problems can be controlled with medication or diet. A number of information sheets will be made available to you regarding nutrition, activity level, skin care, and other topics of importance to you during your therapy.
When will I see my radiation oncologist?
While under treatment, you will have a weekly visit with your radiation oncologist or the physicians’ assistant. However, if at any other time you do not feel well or have questions, please tell the receptionist or one of the other staff members as you check in that you would like to be seen before or after that day's treatment.
Will I be radioactive?
External beam radiation treatment does not make people radioactive. When receiving external beam treatments, it is safe for you to be around others. However, patients undergoing certain types of treatment, including prostate seed implants and radioiodine therapy are radioactive. Ask your doctor for more information on these types of treatments and the safety measures that are taken following treatments.
What should I do if I have an after-hours emergency?
If you have a treatment-related problem after regular office hours, you should call Arizona Oncology Services at 602-274-4484 (toll-free 800-360-6371). Your physician or one of his/her colleagues will return your call to discuss how best to deal with your symptoms. If you feel that you have a life threatening emergency, call 911. For other emergencies you should go to the nearest hospital emergency department. For health problems not related to radiation treatment, please contact your regular physician.