External Radiation ~ Health Guide

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External Radiation

Written by Mystic on Monday, August 04, 2008

External Radiation is electronically produced by a linear accelerator, deep therapy or superficial therapy machine.

This form of treatment is painless and it is similar to having an x-ray taken. The type of cancer and the affected part of your body influences the choice of treatment machine. Some machines are better at treating cancers near the surface of the skin, while others are used to treat cancers deeper in the body.

These machines have several things in common. The first is that they're big! They may appear threatening, but you will soon get used to the size. You'll also get to know the staff and procedures at the treatment centre and will feel more at ease. These machines may make noises something like a vacuum cleaner and are moved up and down and around you so that the radiation can be directed at the tumour from different angles.

It is normal to feel a bit anxious. Try to relax and remember that machines are operated by trained staff called Radiation Therapists and are always checked by the Radiation Physicist, who make sure the equipment is working correctly.

Your first visit

During the first visit with the Radiation Oncologist, they will review your records, talk about your general health and examine you. The Radiation Oncologist will then decide if radiation therapy will help you and if so the type of radiation best for you. Other tests may be ordered to give the Radiation Oncologist more information about the cancer.

You will be able to discuss this and ask any other questions you wish. It is helpful to have a family member or friend at the consultation. Usually this is all that happens at this visit.

What is planning?

Planning usually occurs on your second visit and it is the essential preparation for your treatment. You will be given an appointment to visit the radiation treatment centre for planning. Planning may involve having an x-ray on which the Radiation Oncologist can mark the precise location and size of the cancer. The x-ray is taken on a special machine called a simulator.

Sometimes planning may involve other x-ray procedures such as CT scanning.
Once treatment is prescribed, tiny dot-like marks (tattoos) are pinpricked on the skin with ink that cannot be wiped out, to indicate the exact areas that need to be treated.

The amount of radiation and how it is given depends on the type of cancer, the area being treated, your body's response and your size. Occasionally, special devices may be used to ensure you are in the same position each time.

For instance, for many treatments involving the face and the neck, a perspex mask called a shell will need to be made during planning. This is worn during treatment and allows the marks to be placed on the shell instead of the skin. The mask is not uncomfortable and you will still be able to hear, speak and breathe normally.

During your planning, you will meet with the Radiation Therapists who are specifically trained to deliver your treatment. They work with the Radiation Oncologist in arranging a treatment plan and treating you. You will see your doctor regularly during treatment and sometimes changes will be made to the treatment plan along the way. Also at your first visit you will probably meet the Radiation Oncology Nurse, whose special training enables them to help you throughout treatment. They work closely with the doctor and can also answer questions about the treatment.

How long is a course of treatment?

The treatment length is tailored specifically on the total dose needed to treat your specific cancer. Treatment varies from one single dose to between 30 and 35 doses. The terms for radiation dosage is the Gray. The total dose is divided into smaller doses known as fractions.

Treatments are usually given once a day, Monday to Friday. In order to reduce the effects of radiotherapy on healthy cells, treatment is generally planned for small daily doses daily over a set period of time.

The treatment period may be up to 6-7 weeks, depending on the total dose needed. Some treatments are given only once or twice a week and occasionally they may be given more than once a day.

Remember, it is very important to have your treatments in order to receive maximum benefit. If you are unable to attend please notify the staff at the treatment centre to avoid concern and confusion.

Will the treatment be painful?

Radiation Therapy is not painful. A radiation therapist will take you to the treatment room where you will be positioned on a table beneath the machine, using the marks on your skin as a guide. The table can be rather hard and if you are too uncomfortable, tell the therapist who may be able to make you more comfortable.

Although alone in the treatment room, while the machine is operating, the therapist will be observing you through a window or TV monitor and an intercom is usually available.

It is important to relax, breathe normally and lie as still as possible, as this ensures the treatment is accurate. The total amount of time spent in the treatment room is usually 10 - 20 minutes. The machine is only turned on after the therapists have made sure you are in the correct position. The actual treatment usually takes a very short time - a few minutes at most.

Will I be radioactive?

No. External radiotherapy does not make you radioactive. It is safe to be with your children, family and friends both throughout the treatment and after the treatment has been completed.

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