Is radiation for cancer treatment painful and how many visits are needed?
No, cancer radiation treatment is not painful and feels like an x-ray. The number of treatments varies according to the needs of the individual and is determined by the doctor.
Can I drive and work when receiving radiation treatment?
Most patients are able to continue their normal daily activities when receiving radiation treatment. The major exception for driving is for patients with tumors of the central nervous system, or patients taking medications that cause sleepiness. We encourage patients to continue a normal lifestyle, including a normal exercise regimen.
Will I be radioactive and pose a danger to my family?
There is no radioactivity, other than when the treatment machine is turned on. The treatment lasts about three to five minutes. When patients receive radioactive implants, a degree of radioactivity can remain within the patient and safety discussions should be discussed with the radiation oncologist.
What staff members are involved in my treatment?
Our doctor is a Board Certified Oncologist, which means he completed a residency in therapeutic radiology and oncology after medical school and has passed certification by the American Board of Radiology. Our radiation oncologist will provide an initial consultation and address any side effects that arise during radiation treatment.
Our Radiation Therapists have a degree from a certified school of radiation therapy technology. The Radiation Therapists deliver daily treatments and communicate frequently with the Radiation Oncologist about the condition of the patient, side effects and other information.
We have a medical physics staff comprised of a Board Certified Medical Physicist and a Medical Dosimetrist, each with specialized training in calibrating medical radiation doses. They work together to develop a customized plan for each patient based on the size and location of the cancer site.
How can I ensure the proper dose is given?
The physics staff carefully calculates the precise dose, as prescribed by the radiation oncologist and specialized computer systems verify and record doses. In addition, we maintain and calibrate our equipment every day and a microchip in the radiation field checks the calculated dose. The radiation oncologist oversees the dosimetry and determines the plan of care.
What happens on an average treatment day?
After checking in with the receptionist, the patient is escorted to the treatment room by a radiation therapist. Clothing covering the treatment fields is removed and the patient is positioned on the treatment table. The therapist leaves the room and turns on the machine to administer the dose. After the first treatment is completed, the therapists position the machine for the next treatment field and the process is completed for all treatment fields.
Once each week, the radiation oncologist meets with the patient to determine how the patient is reacting to cancer radiation treatment and to answer any questions. If a problem develops in between visits, the radiation oncologist is available.
What are the side effects of radiation for cancer treatment?
The side effects of radiation for cancer depend on the area of the body that is treated and the dose. Common side effects include fatigue and irritation of the skin in the treatment area. The fatigue can last for two or three months after treatment. Skin irritation can range from mild sunburn to red, dry and itchy skin or blistering of the skin. Patients are given instructions to clean and treat the irritated skin.
Hair loss may occur in the field of radiation, but not scalp hair loss. Irritation of the area treated, such as sore mouth, trouble swallowing, irritation in the lung or esophagus, abdominal pain, depending on the treatment area. In general, side effects resolve within 4 to 6 weeks of the end of cancer treatment. Some longer term side effects may include permanent changes of the color and elasticity of the skin within the treatment field.
Responsibilities of the patient and family
The patient and family have responsibilities to avoid treatment delays and problems. This includes providing the radiation oncologist with an accurate and detailed medical history, including medications, allergies and past treatments for cancer. The radiation oncologist will need the name and contact information for former cancer specialists. The patient must commit to the treatment plan for radiation for cancer. Arrive on time, don’t remove marks on the skin, and report side effects or other problems, so we can work to find a solution and avoid a break in the treatment course.
Is radiation therapy expensive?
Treatment with radiation for cancer can be costly, due to the complex equipment and services of multiple medical professionals. The exact cost depends on the type and number of treatments that are needed. Most health insurance and Medicare Part B cover radiation therapy and Medicaid may help pay for treatments for eligible patients.