Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy can help you in your fight against cancer. It begins with a session to discuss treatment with your healthcare provider. If you and your provider decide on radiation, you will return for a treatment planning visit called a simulation. Then you will start treatment.
The simulation is a planning session that helps your healthcare provider target your cancer. He or she will design a radiation plan to protect your healthy tissues from radiation. Your radiation therapy team uses a special machine called a simulator to map out your treatment. The simulator is usually an X-ray machine (fluoroscopy), CT scanner, MRI scanner, or PET-CT scanner machine. Laser lights act as guides to help position your body accurately. During this visit:
- The team figures out the best position for your body. They make notes in your chart so you’ll be placed the same way each time.
- They may use special devices to keep your body correctly positioned and still during treatment. These may include molds, masks, rests, and blocks.
- The team makes ink marks on your skin. These will help you get in the same position for each treatment. Tiny permanent tattoos may also be used. These tattoos may be removed later with laser treatments.
- Markers such as metal balls or wires may be put on or in your body. Sometime these are taped to the skin to help with the imaging process. These work with the X-rays to position your body. The markers are removed when the visit is over.
After the team has the imaging and data, the information is sent into the computer planning system. Your doctor and the team of physicists and dosimetrists design a treatment field. The field will best target your cancer and how it might spread. It will also help limit radiation to nearby normal tissues.
When the simulation and plan are completed, you will begin your daily treatments. Treatment is usually once daily, Monday through Friday, for 5 to 7 weeks. It takes less than 30 minutes. Sometimes you may need radiation twice a day, with about 6 hours between treatments.
You may need to change into a hospital gown. The radiation therapist puts you in the correct position on the treatment table, then leaves the room. Sometimes you may need more imaging before each treatment. The machine may take digital X-rays or a CT scan to help make sure you are lined up correctly. During treatment, lie as still as you can and breathe normally. You will hear noises coming from the machine. You can talk to the radiation therapist, who watches you from the control room on a TV monitor. After treatment, the therapist will help you off the table. You can then get dressed and go back to your normal activities.
After your radiation treatments are done, you will have follow-up appointments. These are to make sure the cancer is under control. Tell your healthcare team about any side effects from the treatment. The team will help you manage them.