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Radiation Oncology FAQ's

How do I schedule an appointment to see a radiation oncologist?
Answer - The patient may be referred by another doctor or may be self-referred. Most appointments can be scheduled within a week of referral. All records need to be sent to the radiation oncologist before the patient arrives. This will include pathology, x-rays, scans, and other doctor's office notes.

What should I expect during the first appointment?
Answer - The patient will meet with the business manager, nurse, doctor, and social worker. The doctor will review the patient's medical history, examine the patient, and discuss treatment options. If the patient decides to have radiation therapy, an appointment for simulation will be arranged.

What should I expect before the first radiation therapy treatment is given?
Answer - Once a patient has been diagnosed with cancer and discussed treatment options with the doctor, it is time to set up appointments for radiation treatments. The first appointment will be for a simulation. A simulation is where the technical portion of the patient's treatment plan originates. During this visit, the patient will be placed on a couch that simulates the actual treatment couch. The doctor and radiation therapist will use fluoroscopy (live x-ray) to locate the area that will be receiving radiation therapy. Once this is done, marks will be placed on the patient's body to allow the position to be recreated each time a radiation treatment is delivered. These marks may be temporary for this visit or may be very small permanent tattoos placed under the skin.

Occasionally the doctor may want to view a three dimensional Computerized Axial Tomogram (CAT scan) before placing the permanent tattoos. It may be necessary for the patient to return to the simulator machine for these permanent marks on a follow up appointment. Once the doctor has developed a treatment plan (prescription) the physics team will work with the CAT scan images to program the treatment computer. This process is extremely detailed and may take up to a week to complete. Once the treatment plan is entered into the treatment machine, the patient will come for a "dry run" in the treatment room that will take approximately an hour to complete. This dry run will consist of several x-rays that allow the doctor to review the treatment plan and computer programming before the patient actually receives a radiation treatment. The following appointment will be for the first radiation therapy treatment.

An average of ten minutes per day is needed to receive a radiation therapy treatment. The staff at Saint Joseph Radiation Oncology realizes this new daily task may cause inconvience and stress to the patient's life. Our staff will work with each patient to try to accommodate needs. The appointment will be for the same time each day allowing it to be worked into the patient's daily routine. Saint Joseph Radiation Oncology prides itself on promptness and will make every attempt to have each patient in and out of our facility within the ten minute scheduled appointment time. Patients receive varying number of radiation treatments according to how much radiation has been prescribed. Some treatment courses require only one visit while others may require upwards of forty visits. The doctor will inform each individual patient of any special instructions and how many radiation treatments will be required.

What should I expect during the actual radiation treatment?
Answer - The patient will be placed on the treatment couch in the same position used for the simulation visit. The team of radiation therapists will position the patient using the tattoos and several lasers placed throughout the room. Once this is done the therapists will leave the treatment room. The door to the room will be closed during treatment to prevent others from receiving radiation. The machine will make a clicking or humming noise while the radiation beam is on. The patient will not see, hear, taste, or feel anything while receiving the radiation treatment. Once the treatment has been completed, the therapists will open the door and assist the patient in getting off the treatment couch. Patients should remember that the couch moves upwards to allow the therapists to position the patient and should not move until the therapist says it is okay. The entire treatment will take approximately ten minutes to perform. The patient is not "radioactive" after receiving external beam radiation.

What should I do in the event of a power outage?
Answer - Safety precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of the patient during a power outage. Radiation cannot be emitted from the treatment machine without electricity. The radiation treatment computer will not allow radiation to be delivered unless the Linac (treatment machine) is working properly. The treatment machine will not touch the patient. The treatment room door has a battery back up and if that fails, the radiation therapists are able to manually open the door.

What should I do in the event of treatment machine problems?
Answer - The radiation therapy machine and computer will not allow radiation to be delivered unless all information is correct. If the machine stops during radiation delivery, the computer will save the data to insure that the patient receives the prescribed amount of radiation.

Will I experience hair loss due to radiation therapy treatments?
Answer - Radiation therapy treatments will only cause loss of hair in the area treated. When the head is treated, hair loss may be experienced in the area receiving radiation. Usually hair loss due to radiation therapy is permanent.

What are some side effects of radiation therapy?
Answer - Usually side effects do not occur until two to three weeks into the course of treatment. The doctor will discuss any possible side effects with the patient before starting radiation treatments. Some patients experience no side effects.

Can I move during radiation therapy?
Answer - It is very important for the patient not to move while on the treatment couch. Movement can cause the radiation beam to not be in the exact area needing treatment. The couch is narrow and movement could cause the patient to fall resulting in injuries.

Are there safety precautions taken while receiving external beam radiation treatment?
Answer - External beam radiation therapy does not cause the patient to be "radioactive". The radiation beam is like a light switch, when the beam goes off, there is no lingering radiation in the room or the patient. Patients may be around children, pregnant women, and other family members without the fear of exposing them to radiation.

Are there safety precautions taken after receiving prostate implant?
Answer - Patients receiving a radioactive prostate implant (seeds) will be given any special instructions before the implant is placed. The radiation given off by the seeds is low energy and is easily absorbed by the patient's body. It is recommended to stay six or more feet from small children and pregnant women. Small children should not sit in the patient's lap. These safety precautions will need to be followed for approximately six months after receiving the implant.

Are there safety precautions taken after receiving High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy?
Answer - The patient will be placed in a special room for the HDR treatment. Once the source of radiation is removed from the patient's body there is no danger of exposing other people.

How many radiation treatments will be needed?
Answer - The radiation oncologist will inform each patient of the number of treatments necessary. This number may be a range (example: 33 to 35) and final determination of the number may not be decided upon until nearing the end of the course of treatment.

Does radiation therapy hurt?
Answer: Usually not while it is being given. Sometimes the skin becomes tender where it was radiated, like a sunburn.

Will I lose my hair?
Answer: Unlike some chemotherapy agents that cause all body hair to fall out, radiation only causes hair loss where the beam enters and exits the body.

Will I be a danger to my family?
Answer: External radiation does not make you radioactive. If you have internal radiation (brachytherapy), you will be hospitalized during the procedure, and may have to keep a safe distance from people while the implant is in your body. Once it is removed, you are no danger to your friends and family. Patients who have permanent implants will be advised by their physicians of any necessary precautions.

Who can I ask questions?
Answer - The staff at Saint Joseph Radiation Oncology is available for questions. Once a week each patient receiving radiation treatment will see the radiation oncologist. In addition, a doctor will be available daily during office hours if needed.

Radiation Therapy Team Members

  • Business Manager will collect billing information and provide information about patient's account.
  • Dietitian will assist the patient in nutrition while undergoing radiation treatment.
  • Dosimetrist will calculate radiation therapy doses.
  • Nurse will help with information collection, answer questions, and assist the radiation oncologists.
  • Physicist will ensure the patient receives the prescribed amount of radiation.
  • Radiation Oncologist will develop a prescription using radiation to treat cancer or pain due to the cancer process.
  • Radiation Therapist will schedule and deliver the radiation therapy, answer questions, and assist the doctors.
  • Receptionist will greet the patient, collect information, and schedule other appointments related to radiation treatments.
  • Social Worker will help individuals, families, and communities with their personal and social problems.

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