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Q: What is radiation therapy?

A: Radiation therapy is the treatment of cancer using beams of high-energy waves called radiation.

The radiation used for cancer treatment comes from special machines or from radioactive substances. Radiation therapy machines aim specific amounts of the radiation at tumors or parts of the body where there is/was disease to kill cancer cells or keep them from spreading. 

Information on your treatment plan is available through your Radiation Oncology Team. Radiation affects all cells. Healthy cells are able to repair themselves through normal cell function. Unhealthy cells, such as cancer cells, are not able to repair after radiation.

Q: What are the Types of Radiation Therapy?


A: External Radiation Therapy is given from a special machine (called a linear accelerator). The patient never becomes radioactive.

Internal Radiation Therapy is when the source of radiation is placed inside the body near the cancer cells. The length of time the implant is in place depends upon the type of implant received.

 

Q: Why is Radiation Given?

A: Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer and a few non-cancerous diseases. Radiation treatments can be used to:

  • Treat cancer by killing, stopping, or slowing the growth of cancer cells
  • Shrink tumors to reduce pain, pressure, or other side effects if a cure is not possible. The term palliative is often used to describe this process.

Radiation therapy is often used with other treatments. Radiation may be used before, during, or after surgery. It is used to shrink the tumor to a smaller size before surgery or to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery. Sometimes doctors give radiation during surgery so the radiation can be directed right at the cancer cells without having to go through the skin.

Radiation can also be used with chemotherapy. Sometimes radiation is given to shrink the tumor before or during chemotherapy so the medicines will work better. Other times the chemotherapy helps the radiation treatment work better than chemotherapy alone.

 

Q: Who is on the radiation therapy team? 

A: The team goes as follows:

Radiation Oncologist—the doctor who will prescribe the type and amount of treatment that is correct for you. The radiation oncologist will work closely with the other doctors and health care workers that make up your health care team.

Radiation physicist—is the person who makes sure that the equipment is working properly and that the machine delivers the right amount of radiation. The physicist will work closely with the radiation oncologist to plan your treatment.

Dosimetrist—will work under the direction of the radiation oncologist and the physicist. They calculate the amount of radiation to be delivered to the cancer and the normal tissues that are close by.

Radiation Therapy Technologist (RTT)—is the person who delivers the prescribed dose of radiation under the direction of the radiation oncologist.

Radiation nurse—will help you to learn about your cancer and the treatment. They can also tell you how to manage side effects. The nurse can help you set up visits with other members of the health care team.