It’s always frightening to be told that you have cancer, but your health professional has probably assured you that cancer treatments have progressed and improved over the past few years. Many cancer patients can expect a complete cure and go on to live healthy, normal lives.
Your primary care provider or other physician will refer you to a cancer specialist, known as an oncologist, in order to develop a specialized treatment plan for your particular type of cancer. One of the treatments recommended may be radiotherapy, which is readily available at Greenwood Leflore Hospital’s Cancer Center. Following are some common questions and answers which may help to alleviate your concerns as you prepare to begin treatment.
What is radiotherapy?
No matter what type of cancer you have, the basic problem is abnormal cells which are multiplying too quickly. In order to rid the body of those cells, cancer treatment is designed to destroy the abnormal tissues while doing the least possible harm to normal tissue. One common type of treatment is radiotherapy, which directs high energy radiation beams straight into the cancer region. This is usually accomplished with a machine called a linear accelerator, and the exact treatment will depend on the type, size and location of your tumor. The treatment itself is pain-free and usually takes 30 minutes or less.
How does radiotherapy work?
Every cell in your body is controlled by DNA, the basic genetic material of life. In cancer cells, that DNA reproduces erratically and quickly, leading to tumor formation. The high energy radiation administered during radiotherapy is targeted toward those abnormal cells, ideally destroying them and shrinking or eliminating the tumor. Normal cells will also be affected, but with careful use of radiotherapy, this can be kept to a minimum.
What is IGRT?
IGRT (Image-guided radiotherapy) utilizes digital images to pinpoint the exact part of your body which should receive the treatment. Because tumors can shift and move, depending on your position, your bladder contents and other factors, IGRT is used to focus the linear accelerator’s beams squarely on the targeted region and minimize exposure of healthy tissue.
WHAT IS IMRT?
IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy) is an advanced version of radiotherapy, incorporating 3-D imaging to shape the radiation beam. Your radiation oncologist will be able to tell you if this is a modality suited to your case.
Who will plan my treatments and administer them?
Greenwood Leflore Hospital’s Radiation Oncologist, Roderick C. Givens, M.D. is a specialist who has spent years studying and treating cancer with radiation therapy. After studying your medical records and consulting with your physicians, he will plan the number and nature of your radiotherapy treatments. Each treatment will be administered by a registered Radiation Therapist, a medical professional specifically trained in this field. The entire radiotherapy team will work with you to be sure you understand the procedures and your part in a positive outcome.
How often will I have radiotherapy?
In most cases, treatment will be given five days per week, Monday through Friday. The number of weeks varies depending on many factors, and your Radiation Oncologist will explain your unique schedule before treatment starts.
How long does a treatment take?
Treatment usually takes about 30 minutes, sometimes less, and are generally comfortable and relaxed. You may read, listen to music or try many different relaxation techniques which the staff might suggest. A friend or relative may come with you to the radiation therapy center, but they will need to remain in the waiting room during the actual treatment. To limit their own radiation exposure, the Radiation Therapist will also be out of the room during the treatment, but they are in contact with you at all times via closed circuit tv and an intercom system.
Will these treatments make me feel sick?
The actual radiotherapy treatments, except in unusual cases, are painless and produce little or no discomfort for the patient. Depending on the specific site of your tumor, you may experience some affects afterwards, which your doctor will discuss with you beforehand.
Will my radiation treatments affect my family?
External beam radiation, which is the type administered by a linear accelerator, will not make you “radioactive” in any way. There are types of “internal radiation” or “brachytherapy” which involves implanted radiation source, and your physician will discuss precautions to take if this course is recommended during your treatment.
Can I continue normal activities during my treatment period?
Most patients can go right on with their normal daily activities during their radiotherapy weeks, limited only by their general health and any limitations placed on them by their physicians. You may be asked to have someone drive you to and from your appointments, just as a precaution and as an extra source of support for you.
Do I have to be on a special diet during radiotherapy treatments?
Unless your specific type of cancer requires dietary alterations, you can eat a normal, healthy diet during your treatments. GLH staff members will keep a record of your weight and discuss any concerns with your Radiation Oncologist or primary physician.