Your Radiation Treatments

M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Date: August 2011

And I was very nervous going into my initial consultation although I had done research into what radiation therapy was all about.  What my treatments might have been like.  I didn't know what, you know, what to expect.  But once I've got in there and talked to the doctors, they made me feel so comfortable with what my treatment plan was going to be, that you know, you have that confidence.  Maybe at first I was nervous but towards the end of the treatment itself it's just something that came naturally to me.

What is radiation therapy?  How radiation therapy treats cancer?  Radiation therapy focuses high energy radiation at the cancer growth.  The radiation damages or destroys the cancer cells so that they cannot continue to grow.  To protect the normal cells of the surrounding area, the radiation is carefully aimed at the tumor.  Radiation treatments take place over a period of time.  Even though some normal cells are exposed to the radiation, they will recover.  The damage to normal cells is what causes side effects.  When cancer cells are exposed to the radiation, they will be destroyed or damaged so severely that they can no longer grow or divide.  For more information, please feel free to go to the side effects section.  How radiation therapy is given?  External beam radiation uses a linear accelerator to focus the high energy radiation on the cancer.  With this type of radiation therapy, large areas of the body or more than one area of the body can be treated.  Usually external beam radiation is given daily for several weeks.

What is radiation therapy?  How radiation therapy treats cancer?  Radiation therapy focuses high energy radiation at the cancer growth.  The radiation damages or destroys the cancer cells so that they cannot continue to grow.  To protect the normal cells of the surrounding area, the radiation is carefully aimed at the tumor.  Radiation treatments take place over a period of time.  Even though some normal cells are exposed to the radiation, they will recover.  The damage to normal cells is what causes side effects.  When cancer cells are exposed to the radiation, they will be destroyed or damaged so severely that they can no longer grow or divide.  For more information, please feel free to go to the side effects section.  How radiation therapy is given?  External beam radiation uses a linear accelerator to focus the high energy radiation on the cancer.  With this type of radiation therapy, large areas of the body or more than one area of the body can be treated.  Usually external beam radiation is given daily for several weeks.

Taking special care of yourself.  Tips to make your treatment work better.  Before you start your treatment, tell your doctor about any implantable devices such as a pacemaker or defibrillator and all of the prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins or herbal supplements you take.  During your treatment, do not take any medicine or supplement without first telling your doctor, nurse or mid-level provider.  Get plenty of sleep and rest during the day if you feel tired.  Nutrition is very important in helping you feel better and recover faster.  Try to prevent weight loss by eating a balanced diet.  Take special care of your skin in the treatment area.  See managing side effects.  If you have any questions, ask a member of your radiation team.  Only they can give you the correct information regarding your treatment, side effects, home care or any other problems you may have.  Check into support groups or special classes for cancer patients at your treatment facility.  Talking with others about having cancer and sharing ideas for managing side effects can help you learn and recover more quickly.  Treatment planning and simulation.  Planning radiation therapy is a very complex process that may last several days.  Your doctor will review your medical history and test results.  He or she will then pinpoint the exact treatment area and decide on the type of radiation that is best to treat your type of cancer.  This immobilization device is made to ensure exact positioning of head and neck patients throughout the course of their treatment.  The radiation therapist will first position you on the table in preparation for making the mask.  You'll be given instructions to relax and to hold as still as possible.  The radiation therapist will then place the thermoplast mold into a warm water bath where it will become soft and pliable in a few minutes.  The therapist will remove it from the bath and dry it off before gently placing it over your face and shoulders.  The soft mask will be warm and moist and feel like you are getting a warm facial.  Breathe normally, relax and hold still.  The mask will be secured to the head rest.  The radiation therapist will then mold the shell around your shoulders, neck and facial features.  Marking the treatment area, head and neck.  In approximately three to five minutes, the mask will cool and harden into the shape it was molded in.  Continue to breathe normally with the mask in place.  Alignment lasers are used to place marks on the mask so that you can be accurately positioned for each treatment session.  For simulation, you will need to lie on an exam table while the radiation therapist takes special x-rays to determine exactly where to aim the radiation.  The amount of radiation that you will be given is based on the size and type of the tumor.  Marking the treatment area, other areas.  The radiation therapist will mark the treatment area with tiny dots of special ink to help aim the radiation beam.  Sometimes, the marks are made with tattoos.  These marks will be used during your entire treatment to make sure that the treatment is exactly the same each time.  Tell your radiation therapist if they seem to be fading.  After simulation, the radiation oncologist will meet with the radiation physicist and the medical dosimetrist to determine the kind of radiation you need, the type of machine they will use and how many treatments you will require.  What happens during treatment?  You may need to change into a hospital gown for treatment so it's a good idea to wear clothes that are easy to take off and put on again.  External radiation therapy is similar to getting an x-ray.  Although each radiation treatment takes only a few minutes, each of your therapy sessions can last up to 60 minutes because of the time it takes to position you and the machine correctly.  This immobilization device is made to ensure exact positioning of head and neck patients throughout the course of their treatment.  The radiation therapist will help you into the proper position on the table.  Special devices may be used to keep you in the correct position.  You should lie very still during the treatment and follow the instructions of your radiation therapist.  The radiation therapist will leave the room during the actual radiation treatment but he or she will be able to see and communicate with you via monitor and intercom.  The machines used for radiation therapy will move around you to aim the radiation.  The radiation therapist is actually controlling the machine and making sure that everything is working correctly.  Your radiation therapist can answer any questions you may have about what goes on in the treatment room and if you feel ill or uncomfortable during your treatment, the machine can be stopped.  You will not be radioactive following you external beam treatment sessions.

 

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