Radiation Oncology FAQ
Following meetings with our oncology nurses, radiation oncologist, and radiation therapists, patients will undergo a radiation planning, or simulation, visit. For this process, some patients may be given a contrast media (most commonly barium), while other cases call for an aquaplast face mask to be made. Patients lie on a comfortable table in the position determined best for treatment, and a CT scan is conducted to create a 3-D image of the patient’s body. Tiny permanent dots will be tattooed on the patient to accurately guide radiation beams for treatment. Patients are given a schedule of their treatment—typically a three- to eight-week plan, consisting of 15 to 44 sessions, five days each week.
After the simulation and CT scan, the radiation oncologist will work with Shields’ physics team to design the patient’s treatment beams. The beams are precisely customized to optimally cover all the areas to be treated, and at the same time, maximally protect the surrounding normal structures. Meticulous care is put into this time-consuming process.
At your first appointment, an oncology nurse will greet you, register you, and gather your health history. Please bring a copy of your complete medical record, including pathology or lab reports and/or any prior treatment notes. You will need to bring any films of CT or MRI scans, bone scans, and X-rays. You will also need to bring your health insurance cards, along with any necessary referrals required by your insurer.
After registration, you, your nurse, and your oncologist will discuss your diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options before a plan and timeline are finalized. The first visit usually takes between one-and-a-half and two hours, as preparation time is an important part of the process.
Treatment delivery is just a small portion of the appointment time, while setup procedures are executed in careful detail. You will be positioned exactly as you were in the simulation. Therapists refer to the permanent marks made during the simulation appointment to properly set the radiation beams for treatment each day. Films are always taken prior to the first treatment to verify that everything done in simulation has been reproduced exactly in the treatment room. These films are reviewed by a Shields radiation oncologist before treatment is delivered.
After the first visit, you will receive daily treatments (five days weekly). When you arrive for treatment, you will lie down on the treatment table in the same position as when the simulation was conducted. Digital images will be taken to verify that all the carefully designed beams are aligned correctly. Only after all the measurements and beams have been verified will treatment begin.
The radiation machine will rotate around your body without touching it, and the radiation beam is painless and invisible. You will lie very still but do not need to hold your breath. Radiation therapists will leave the room while the radiation beam is administered, but will be able to see and communicate with you using a video and intercom system.
We encourage family members or close friends to participate in the initial consult with the radiation oncologist and oncology nurse. Since we explain a lot of information to you, it may be helpful to have others there to listen. Family and friends can be very supportive and they are always welcome to accompany you, if you wish. Unless you feel physically ill or mentally exhausted, you will be able to drive yourself home after your appointments.
You will be scheduled for weekly physician/nurse visits throughout the course of your treatment.
You are always welcome to ask to speak with your radiation oncologist or nurse, or with your radiation therapist, who is extremely experienced in radiation therapy. To reach any member of our staff, call our regular telephone number.
If you have extreme discomfort while you are receiving treatment, it is very important to contact the doctor or nurse at the Shields Radiation Oncology Center. You should also contact your referring physician or primary care physician. This comprehensive approach to your care ensures we all work together in your best interest.
You will be scheduled for a certain number of treatments based on your specific disease. It is extremely important that you receive all of your prescribed treatments. If you miss a day, it must be made up, and your last day of treatment will be extended.
In most cases, your chemotherapy will be given in your medical oncologist’s office or at a local hospital.
No. Approximately 4 to 6 weeks after your last treatment, you will return for a follow-up appointment. Additional follow-up appointments will be scheduled in concert with your oncologist and the Shields Radiation Oncology Center, usually interspersed at three-month, six-month, and one-year intervals.
Your oncology nurse can provide you with information on support groups and access to other oncology professionals.
The oncology nurse can assist you, as can the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.