Radiation therapy uses high energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA. Radiation therapy can be administered with curative intent to eliminate a tumor or prevent cancer recurrence, or it can be administered with palliative intent to relieve symptoms or reduce pain. It can also be used alone or used with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and surgery. Unlike chemotherapy which exposes the entire body to cancer-fighting drugs, radiation therapy is a localized treatment, only affecting the area of the body needing to be treated. The goal of radiation therapy is to damage as many cancer cells as possible, all while avoiding your healthy surrounding tissue.
A consult will be arranged with our radiation oncologist to determine if radiation therapy is the best option for you. In this consult, our radiation oncologist will examine you and review all of your medical records, including any recent diagnostic imaging, such as a PET or CT scan. Our radiation oncologist will go over all of your treatment options. They will also discuss the possible side effects of radiation and how they can be managed. If you decide that radiation therapy is the right choice, additional appointments will be made. You will need to sign an informed consent giving the radiation oncologist permission to treat you with radiation and do the tests necessary to plan your treatment.
A simulation will be performed by our radiation therapists on a CT scanner so that the radiation oncologist can plan your specific radiation treatment. Our radiation therapists will help place your body into the best position for radiation treatment. You will be set up in this same position every day for your treatment, so make sure to let the radiation therapists know if the position is uncomfortable. We may create a special mold, cushion, or mask that forms to your body to help keep you still during treatment. At this visit, your radiation therapists may make some temporary marks on your skin and give you small permanent tattoos the size of a freckle to help align you in the same position every day. Pictures of your set-up will be taken and documented in your radiation therapy chart. Upon completion of the simulation, we will make sure to get your radiation therapy treatment approved by your insurance company and give you a call once your treatment plan is complete.
The CT simulation scan will be used to plan your radiation therapy treatment. Your treatment team puts together a patient-specific treatment plan using 3D images, utilizing a combination of scanning technologies and special software to help define the shape and size of each tumor and its proximity to surrounding sensitive tissues and organs. Your radiation oncologist will prescribe how much radiation the tumor should receive, as well as acceptable levels for healthy tissue nearby.
Typically, most patients receive radiation daily, five days a week. You will not have treatment on weekends or holidays, in order for your healthy tissue to repair itself between treatments. Radiation Treatments take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes from start to finish. Upon checking in for your appointment, you may be asked to change into a gown in one of our private, quiet rooms. The radiation therapists will walk you back to the treatment room and verify name, birth date, and treatment site prior to each treatment. The radiation therapists will position you and line you up to the marks made on your body in the simulation. They will have to leave the room during your scan and treatment, but we have audio and video of you at all times while you are in the treatment room. Once you are set-up, you will need to hold still throughout the entire treatment process to ensure the utmost accuracy. A CT scan will be done on only the affected area to make millimeter adjustments before each treatment. Upon shifting the treatment table to the most precise location for treatment, the treatment table will move into the treatment machine and the radiation treatment will start. The actual time the radiation is on is the same for every treatment with times varying between 3 to 12 minutes, depending on your treatment plan. You will not feel anything from the radiation during your treatment. The experience is similar to having a CT scan or an x-ray taken. After treatment is complete, the radiation therapist will come back into the room to help you get off the treatment table. You will not be radioactive after your treatment.
On Treatment Visits
Once a week, you will also meet with one of our radiation oncology nurses and your radiation oncologist to talk about your treatments and assess any side effects or other issues you may be having. Our radiation oncology nurses will also meet with you at any point throughout your treatment if you need them. At your last weekly visit, your radiation oncologist will discuss your plan for after treatment. The effects of radiation therapy will usually continue after your treatments are finished. A follow-up appointment will be set up on this last visit to reexamine your progress and result from treatment.
The TomoTherapy® treatment system at Fox Valley Hematology & Oncology is one of the most integrated, advanced systems for comprehensive cancer treatment available today. The all-in-one system scans and treats you with a single piece of equipment making it faster, more accurate, and convenient. TomoTherapy® provides highly precise targeting and attacking of cancer cells to effectively treat hard-to-reach and complex tumors by delivering radiation 360 degrees around you. The TomoTherapy® treatment system allows your radiation oncology team to design a personalized, customizable treatment plan. This allows them to minimize damage to surrounding healthy tissue to lower the risk of pain and complications with fewer side effects. The daily CT scan not only guides the treatment each day, but it allows your radiation oncologist to adjust and adapt your treatments based on even the smallest changes to your anatomy. Based on the hundreds of scientific papers written on TomoTherapy®, its unique design results in superior treatment plans and improved clinical outcomes compared with traditional radiation therapy.