After your first visit, your radiation cancer doctor will schedule you to undergo a simulation. That’s a scan done with you placed in the exact position that you will be in during your future radiation treatments. Sometimes, multiple scans (CT and MRI) will be performed the same day. This appointment usually takes about 1 hour but can take several hours depending on the type of scan recommended.
The scan is used to define the precise location in your body where the cancer is and to help plan your radiation treatment.
Our guidelines to prepare for your simulation appointment include:
Before the day of your simulation
Contact your nurse coordinator or advanced practice provider beforehand if you:
- Experience pain while lying flat on your back, and you think you may require pain medication for the scan.
- Are allergic to any type of contrast materials or dyes such as gadolinium.
- Have diabetes, in case you may need to refrain from taking certain medications before or after the simulation.
- Are claustrophobic.
- Have any implanted devices, such as a port, cardiac pacemaker, or brain/spinal stimulator, so that you can bring documentation showing the device’s make and brand.
- Have shrapnel or metal shards in your body.
- Have difficulty with IV placement.
On the day of your simulation:
- Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
- Wear comfortable clothing that you don’t mind getting ink on.
- Please follow your fasting instructions, if your care team has provided any. If these directions are not followed, your simulation may need to be rescheduled.
Imaging scans to plan treatment
You will need to have scans done during your simulation to help plan your radiation treatments. Your radiation oncologist may order one or more of the following scans:
- Computed tomography (CT): Uses X-ray technology to produce cross-sectional images
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Uses radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to produce highly detailed images
- Positron emission tomography (PET): Uses a safe, radioactive tracer to detect cancerous cells in your body
At the time you get imaging tests, you will lie down comfortably while the location of your cancer (and your upcoming treatment) is measured. If your cancer is in the spinal area, the precise location may be marked on your skin, like a tiny tattoo. It is sometimes called a simulation mark.
To help you lie in the correct position for your upcoming treatment, your care team will make a cushion or mask that is customized to fit only you. These supports ensure that you are in the same position for every treatment.