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Introduction to Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is the use of various forms of radiation to safely and effectively treat cancer and other diseases. Radiation therapy works by damaging the DNA of cells thereby preventing them from multiplying and spreading to other sites of the body.  When these damaged cancer cells die, the body naturally removes them. Normal cells are also affected by radiation, but they divide less rapidly and have time to repair themselves. Your radiation oncologist will develop a plan to deliver the radiation to the tumor area, shielding as much surrounding normal tissue as possible. Your radiation oncologist may recommend using radiation therapy in a number of different ways.

New patient consultation

Your physician will refer you to radiation oncology.  An appointment will be made for you to see a radiation oncologist.  He/She will review your medical records including prior imaging (CT, PET/CT, MRI), pathology reports, and doctor progress reports.  You will then meet with the radiation oncologist.  Based on this information, your radiation oncologist will then make a decision whether radiation therapy will benefit you.

After the consultation

If your radiation oncologist determines that radiation would benefit you, then he/she will request authorization for treatment from your insurance company. Insurance companies take 1-7 business days to review the request and authorize treatment.  If you have a case manager assigned by your insurance company, you can talk to him/her to expedite the request.

Radiation therapy planning

The next time you return to radiation oncology, you will receive a CT simulation scan to plan radiation treatment.  You may have received CT scans before, but this CT scan will be used solely for radiation treatment planning. A radiation therapist will put you in the position that you will be in for daily radiation treatments and make immobilization devices to ensure that it is reproducible and comfortable.

Once the CT scan is complete, you will return home.  The CT images will be sent to our radiation planning computes. Your radiation oncologist will prescribe the amount of radiation to give and to what location.  Then trained dosimetrists and physicists will plan the delivery of radiation to achieve your physicians requirements while minimizing radiation to surrounding normal organs.  Once a plan is created, your physician will review the plan.  If approved, the physicist will run quality assurance checks.  This process takes 5-7 business days.

During Radiation Treatments

Radiation treatments are typically given once a day, Monday to Friday, at a regular appointment time.  No treatments are given on the weekends.  Radiation treatment times can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes.

You are scheduled to meet with your physician once a week. This is an opportunity for the doctor to identify any side effects and intervene.  If you need to meet with your doctor more frequently,  let the nurse or therapist know.

Followup care

After radiation is done, you will followup with your radiation oncologist in 2-4 weeks.  Your side effects will peak 1-2 weeks after your last treatment.  At this appointment, your doctor will discuss with you what further imaging or lab tests will need to be done to know how well radiation worked.

Radiation therapy is one of the treatments for cancer.

Most radiation therapy is delivered with a linear accelerator like the one pictured above.