What to Expect Before, During, and After Treatment
Radiation treatment is not like other treatments, and so often it is unknown what to expect. The most important thing you should expect is that we provide you the support, advice and expertise you need. We try to provide some general guidance online, but we individualize certain aspects because the needs of each person we meet is different.
Initial Consultation – Meeting With a Radiation Oncologist
Preparing for your Visit
Your initial consultation will be an opportunity for you to meet your doctor and discuss the details of your diagnosis. During this time, you will have the opportunity to ask questions about your diagnosis and implications with regard to treatment and anticipated outcomes.
You will also have a discussion with your team regarding whether or not radiation treatment plays any role in your care. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and spend time discussing with you and your family whether radiation treatment may be helpful.
If your doctor recommends radiation treatment he or she will also discuss the risks and benefits of treatment and answer your questions. Should you decide to go ahead with radiation treatment, then we will work to schedule the simulation to begin the planning process.
You will be provided contact information and are encouraged to contact your treatment team should any additional questions or concerns arise.
Simulation and Treatment Planning
If radiation treatment is recommended, the next step is treatment planning in order to develop the safest and most effective personalized treatment plan for your unique cancer.
This planning process is referred to as “simulation” because it simulates the treatment position and allows for acquisition of your unique anatomy to be used for treatment planning, but no radiation treatment is administered at this time.
During simulation, your radiation oncologist and radiation therapists will place you on the CT scanner in the exact position you will be in during the actual treatment. Certain measurements may be taken, and once the correct position is determined the radiation therapist may place permanent ink tattoos on your skin. When needed, these marks ensure that radiation treatment will be accurate and reproducible each day you come to the cancer center.
Using all the information from your medical history, previous records and the simulation process, your doctor, a medical dosimetrist and physicist work collaboratively to design your treatment plan.
The time from simulation to start of radiation treatment may vary depending upon plan complexity and appropriateness related to chemotherapy or recovery from surgery. Should you have any questions, please discuss with your treatment team at the time of simulation or contact us at your convenience.
What to Expect During Treatment
When undergoing external beam radiation therapy, you will be positioned on the treatment table for each session. During this time, while being treated, you will not feel the radiation, similar to getting an X-ray. Radiation treatments are typically short, lasting only a few minutes. In order to account for check-in, positioning and advanced imaging, which may be required for your treatment, appointment times each day may consist of 30-45 minutes in the department. Once the radiation treatment is complete you will not be “radioactive” and do not retain any of the radiation. You will have no limitations regarding contact with other individuals.
Typically, radiation treatments are delivered 5 days a week, Monday-Friday, unless emergency treatments need to be delivered over a weekend. The total number of treatments you will need is dependent upon many variables, which your doctor will discuss with you.
While you are receiving radiation, the therapists will be monitoring you continuously. The machine may make some noises that sound like clicking or whirring, but that may simply be the equipment or a periodic film taken to make sure that your treatment remains accurate. The machine can be stopped at any time if you are feeling ill or uncomfortable.
If an immobilization device was made during simulation, it will be used during every treatment to make sure that you are in the exact same position every day. As you go through treatment, your doctor will monitor your daily treatments and make adjustments if necessary. Sometimes blood tests, X-ray examinations and other tests may be helpful to see how your body is responding to treatment. Usually each radiation treatment will be the same time each day unless you need to reschedule treatment on a given day.
Rarely do patients notice any actually side effects when the radiation beam is on, but treatment may lead to side effects. Side effects are different depending upon what many factors, some of which are on this website based upon where radiation is given. However, speak with your doctor to understand more about what you should expect for side effects of your treatment.
Sometimes a course of treatment is interrupted for a day or more. This may happen if you develop side effects that require a break in treatment. These missed treatments may be made up by adding treatments at the end. However, if you’re not feeling well enough to come in for treatment, please call us rather than just cancel so we can determine how best to help you recover more quickly.
Weekly Status Checks
During radiation therapy, your doctor and nurse will see you regularly to follow your progress, evaluate whether you are having any side effects, recommend treatments for those side effects (such as medication or diet changes) and address any concerns you may have. As treatment progresses, your doctor may make changes in the schedule or treatment depending on your response or reaction to the therapy.
Although weekly visits are schedule to ensure that we are monitoring your progress through treatment, please do not hesitate to let your treatment team know that you want to see the doctor or nurse on any day if you have questions, concerns or new symptoms.
Our staff will work with you to arrange scheduling that is most conducive to your schedule. Please let your therapist know if there is a specific time that would be most convenient for you. We will work to accommodate your request, but cannot guarantee that the specific time you would like will be available.
We understand that emergencies and occasional scheduling conflicts may occur. If you must reschedule your appointment, please call us as soon as possible so we can ensure that you complete treatment as smoothly and safely as possible. Your therapist or clinic coordinator will advise you of any schedule changes caused by major holidays or weather.
If you anticipate that scheduling could be a problem before beginning treatment, be sure to discuss it with your doctor to ensure it will not affect his or her recommendations for how your radiation treatments should be performed.
After treatment is completed, follow-up appointments will be scheduled at the discretion of you radiation oncologist in order to ensure appropriate recovery and as part of routine surveillance as appropriate. The follow-up schedule varies based upon treatment and goals of radiation therapy as well as follow-up visits with your other healthcare professionals.
As time goes on, the frequency of your visits will decrease. However, you should know that you can always contact us should you need to speak to someone about your treatment.