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Radiation therapy remains a key part of treating cancer and other conditions — more than half of cancer patients receive radiation as part of their treatment.
We take a number of steps to ensure your radiation therapy is safe and effective.
If your doctor thinks you might need radiation therapy, you will receive a referral to one of our radiation oncologists, physicians who specialize in treating cancer and other conditions with radiation.
During an initial office visit, the radiation oncologist will:
Review your medical history, both current and past
Ask about your family medical history
Examine imaging results
Complete a physical examination
Assess your need for radiation therapy and its possible results
Discuss the benefits and risks of treatment
Answer your questions
Safe and effective radiation therapy relies on accurate and consistent targeting for each treatment session.
That is why we do a simulation for every patient beforehand, asking each to lie in the treatment position while using computed tomography (CT) or other imaging equipment to identify the tumor’s exact location and characteristics. (Learn more about our advanced imaging for radiation therapy.)
We may decide to:
Mark your body to help with accuracy of treatment delivery
Design custom "immobilization" devices, such as mesh facial masks, headrests or form-fitted body molds to keep your body still and in the same position during each session
Create blocks or shields that go into the delivery system to protect healthy tissue
Use a tool called a multileaf collimator to shape the treatment beam
Planning and Dose Calculation
After simulation, your radiation oncologist will work with one of our team of medical dosimetrists and medical physicists to create a treatment plan, including:
Type of delivery system and technique that is best for you
Number of treatments, which depends on:
The tumor’s size, location and type
The goal of therapy
Your general health
Your other medical treatments
Developing the treatment plan is often complex, and we may use sophisticated software that recreates your "virtual anatomy," with the location of your cancer or tumor. It may take several days to complete treatment planning.
Radiation is usually given as an outpatient treatment. Upon checking in at our Radiation Therapy reception desk, you are shown to the waiting area and dressing room. A radiation therapist will then lead you to the treatment suite and:
Position you on the treatment table and help you with any facemasks, headrests or body molds that may have been made for you during the simulation process.
Move to a safe control area and continue to communicate through speakers and microphones, and watch you through cameras and monitors. You can convey any concerns to your therapists, and it is possible to stop treatment at any point if you are feeling sick or uncomfortable.
Take high quality x-rays or conebeam CT images (IGRT) to check your positioning and possibly make adjustments.
Deliver treatment, carefully following the plan your doctors created. This takes anywhere from a few minutes to up to an hour, depending on the system used and the complexity of the therapy. Treatment is painless and is usually delivered from a machine that does not touch your body. (Sometimes, radiation is given internally. Learn more about this technique, called brachytherapy.)
At least once per week, you will meet with your radiation oncologist and nursing team to:
After you have completed all of your prescribed radiation therapy treatments, you will be scheduled to return within a few weeks to a month after treatment to meet with your radiation oncologist or his/her nurse practitioner or physician assistant.
Your health and safety are our top concern. In addition to the careful steps we take during consultation, planning, and treatment, we follow a number of precautions and protocols for your radiation therapy:
Checks built into our radiation delivery systems to monitor doses and beams, with automatic shutoff if problems are detected
Morning tests of radiation output, beam shaping, imaging and body-positioning devices, as well as more extensive weekly, monthly and annual inspections
Medical physicists to monitor our delivery systems and specially trained engineers to perform maintenance
A complete system of checks and balances to ensure that the treatment we plan for is the one we deliver.