Radiation therapy is one of the most effective ways to combat cancer. It works by focusing a beam of ionizing radiation on the cancerous growth or implanting radioactive sources in the cancerous area. Only a specific area is treated so that there is minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
Radiation therapy has been used to treat both malignant and benign tumors for nearly a century and plays an integral role in the successful treatment of cancer today. External beam radiation therapy is a non-invasive, painless procedure so there are no knives or anesthetics involved. Radiation therapy can also be performed on an outpatient basis, without the need for a hospital stay.
The radiation oncologist will determine the number and frequency of treatments, based on your needs. The typical course of treatment is over a two-week to eight-week period, Monday through Friday.
Radiation therapy can be used alone or in combination with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, biotherapy or hyperthermia. Radiation is most often used to cure cancer; however, for incurable stages it can be a highly effective way to reduce pain, pressure or bleeding, or control the growth of a tumor in a localized area.
Radiation Oncology is one of the three main oncology specialties involved in cancer treatment. Specialists in this area will work with your other physician(s) to decide whether you are a candidate for radiation therapy and how to best administer it. Only a radiation oncologist can determine whether radiation therapy is right for you. A radiation oncologist is a physician who has received highly specialized education and training in the use of radiation therapy.
During your treatment, our radiation oncology team will work closely with your other physicians and health care providers to coordinate your care. The radiation oncology team will include
- The radiation oncologist, who will be responsible for your overall care and develop your treatment plan;
- The radiation oncology nurse, who will help coordinate your care with the other team members and help you manage side effects;
- The radiation physicist and dosimetrist, who will work with your radiation oncologist in formulating your treatment plan;
- The radiation therapists, who will administer your prescribed dose of radiation under the direction of your radiation oncologist.
Physicians often use the terms "treatment programs" or "guidelines" when discussing patient care. These terms refer to various means of treating various diseases and represent recognized methods of delivering optimal care.
In Radiation Oncology, we have treatment programs that are established by our physicians to standardize optimal care. Treatment programs are reviewed periodically by all physicians in Radiation Oncology and are based on medical evidence and national standards, ensuring the highest level of care for every patient.
In addition, the Radiation Oncology Department participates in research protocols. A research protocol investigates a new therapy or new way of using existing therapies, or tests one therapy against another. All medical research at Saint James requires approval of the Saint James Institutional Review Board. Participation in research protocols is always voluntary. Providing access to research protocols allows us to make available the latest in cancer care to our patients.
Simulation & Treatment Planning
Before beginning radiation treatment, your radiation oncologist must plan a customized treatment program so that all the areas "at risk" (i.e., tumor or areas potentially harboring cancerous cells) are included in the radiation treatment field while sparing as much normal tissue as possible. This usually requires a treatment planning session using a special x-ray machine called a simulator. This session is called a simulation. A radiation therapist will work with the radiation oncologist during the simulation.
More than one simulation may be required. Additional imaging procedures, such as CT scans and MRI's, may also be necessary to outline the affected areas and/or to spare normal tissues.
During the simulation, the exact location of the affected area is determined and treatment fields are designed. X-rays or scans of the affected area are typically taken at that time. You do not receive any radiation therapy at the time of simulation.
Once the area to be treated has been delineated, the skin over this area may be marked with small pinpoint tattoos to serve as permanent "landmarks." These assist the radiation therapists in directing the radiation beam precisely to the treatment area. Depending on your individual requirements, the simulation may last from 20 minutes to 45 minutes.
Following the simulation, further treatment planning and calculations are made to determine the best method of delivering the exact dose to the affected area. Additionally, special shielding devices or blocks may be custom made for use in your treatment. All this may take up to a week to complete before you start treatment.