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What To Expect During Radiation

You’ll probably come to our Radiation Oncology Department as an outpatient to receive radiation treatments and return home the same day. Prior to beginning treatment, we’ll set up a series of appointments over several days for you. These visits will include a consultation, a planning visit, a pretreatment check, and your first day of treatment.

Visit one: consultation

Your radiation oncologist will examine you and review your medical chart, imaging studies, and laboratory tests. He or she can then decide whether you should receive radiation therapy and, if so, what type of treatment is best for you. If you need radiation therapy, the radiation oncologist will discuss the benefits of treatment and any possible side effects. If radiation is recommended and you elect to proceed with treatment, you will be scheduled for a planning visit. Before you come for the planning visit, you will also be scheduled for a half-hour teaching session with one of our nurses. At that appointment, you will learn more about the potential side effects of radiation therapy and ways to feel your best during the course of treatment.

Visit two: planning

This appointment, sometimes called a planning session or simulation, prepares you for your radiation treatment. Lasting up to one to two hours, the planning session can be the longest appointment you will have during the course of your treatment.

In order to direct treatment to the cancer site and minimize damage to surrounding cells, your radiation oncologist will use a CT scanner/simulator to locate the area of your body to be treated. After your treatment position is determined and reviewed, a radiation therapist will place tiny permanent ink dots on your skin called tattoos. The tattoos along with immobilization devices are necessary to ensure you are in the same position each day for treatment. In some situations, the radiation therapist may only use a marking pen and protective tape to indicate the area to be treated and aid in daily set up. If the marks come off before your radiation treatment begins, do not put the marks back on yourself; we will refresh the marks for your.

We will take photographs of your face, the area to be treated, and the position in which you will be placed for every treatment. Your medical team will use these pictures to identify you before each treatment and to verify your treatment area and position. Most patients do not receive a radiation treatment on the same day as the planning session. At the end of the session, we will set up your next appointment.

Using the information gained from the planning session, your radiation oncologist along with a dosimetrist and medical physicist will plan your treatment. This process will generally take several days, and sometimes more than a week.

Visit three: verification

During this appointment, we will verify your treatment by taking X-rays. These X-ray images help ensure you are properly positioned for your treatment. Your medical team will review and confirm all information collected in previous visits. After this appointment, your treatment team will verify that the fields created during planning correlate with those taken on the treatment machine. Adjustments may be made to achieve this goal. At this point, the permanent tattoos will be placed if this was not done at the planning visit. At the end of this appointment, we will usually schedule your entire treatment course. You are now ready for your first treatment.

Visit four: first day of treatment

The length of each treatment varies, but they are typically 15 minutes or less. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to your scheduled appointment to give yourself time to change. We normally give treatments promptly at their scheduled times. Generally, your treatment time will be the same for each visit.

A team of radiation therapists will administer your radiation treatment. They will place you on the treatment table and carefully position you for treatment. It’s very important that you remain in this position without moving while you receive treatment. You will be alone in the treatment room, but a therapist will watch you on a video screen and can talk to you through an intercom. Stay in position even after the machine shuts off, and wait until the therapist enters the room to help you down from the table.

On-treatment visit

As you progress through treatment, your physician will check in with you at least once a week. This will be done after your daily treatment, typically on a Wednesday. Your physician will discuss your progress and make suggestions to help you with any side effects that may develop. You may also meet with your nurse for additional help with managing side effects.

If you are having problems or have questions, you do not need to wait for your weekly visit. Let the staff know and they will arrange for you to meet with your doctor or nurse.