Radiation therapy refers to several different techniques that are utilize radiation to treat cancer. Radiation therapy treats cancer by either using high-energy beams of radiation that are aimed at the tumor or radioactive substances.
Radiation Therapy is Classified in Two Ways:
Radiation therapy works by damaging the DNA of cancerous cells, killing cells or inhibiting their ability to reproduce and spread. During treatment, radiation can also damage healthy cells. However, healthy cells can repair themselves while cancerous cells cannot do so.
Radiation therapy may be prescribed on its own or in conjunction with surgery or chemotherapy. Your doctor will discuss whether radiation therapy will be administered with curative or palliative intent.
Radiation therapy is often used in conjunction with other treatments such as chemotherapy or surgery. Radiation therapy may be utilized before, during or after surgery.
In some cases, chemotherapy may help radiation therapy work better than chemotherapy alone. Radiation therapy may also be used to shrink tumors down to a smaller size prior to chemotherapy.
The duration of radiation therapy varies from patient to patient, as well as the type of treatment itself.
External beam radiation therapy usually takes place in short, 1 – 2 hour sessions five days a week for 1 – 8 weeks. Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) is sometimes an exception, as this type of therapy may require as few as a single session.
Internal radiation therapy is given as either High-Dose Rate (HDR) or Low-Dose Rate (LDR), which affects the duration of these treatments.
Except for low-dose brachytherapy, which can take several days, radiation therapy treatments generally last less than 2 hours per session.
After treatment, you will need to visit your doctor for regular checkups. The frequency of checkups will be based on your doctor’s recommendation.
You will not feel any pain or discomfort during radiation therapy. Afterwards, however, you may experience Side Effects that can cause discomfort.
Your doctor does not work alone to provide top quality care for you. They will work with a highly specialized radiation care team during all portions of your treatment.
Your radiation care team may include:
In addition to your core team, you may see specialists in other fields during treatment. Other health care providers may include nutritionists or dietitians, physical therapists, surgeons, and dentists.
Generally, treatments will not limit your normal activities. Many people can continue typical activities such as exercise and work. Fatigue, a common side effect during radiation therapy, may affect your energy levels during treatment. Following treatment, fatigue usually goes away within several weeks.
Fatigue is the most common side effect following radiation treatment. The exact cause of fatigue varies from person to person, and in some cases may not be identifiable.
Potential Causes of Fatigue Include:
Patients generally experience fatigue within the first two weeks of radiation therapy. Your body will expend a lot of energy to heal, so try to get plenty of sleep after radiation treatment.
Some people can work during treatment while others find that they cannot. A job that requires physical exertion may affect your ability to work. If you work full time and are having difficulty with fatigue, it may be helpful for you to try to arrange temporarily reduced hours or a nap during the work day.
It’s important for you to rest. Limit your normal activities if necessary. Try not to stress that you need to do everything you normally do. Splitting daily tasks such as grocery shopping, chores, childcare, or housework between friends or family may help conserve your energy
After your final treatment session, fatigue will go away over the next couple of weeks. It may take may take several weeks for you to return to full strength.
In some cases, radiation therapy may cause low white blood cell counts and low levels of platelets. These cells are responsible for helping your body heal and fight infections. Your red blood cell count can also be low if bone marrow is being treated.
Your radiation treatments may be postponed if your blood cell counts are low. Sometimes, treatment schedules may be changed. Your doctor may check your blood cell counts regularly during your treatment schedule.
Hair loss, also called alopecia, does not happen to everyone receiving radiation treatment. When hair loss does occur, it only takes place in the area being treated. For example, if radiation therapy is done on your arm, you may lose all the hair on your arm, but you will not lose the hair on your head or any other part of your body.
In smaller doses, hair loss can be either temporary or permanent. In larger doses, hair loss can be permanent. Hair that regrows after radiation therapy may be a different color or texture than it was prior to treatment.
The intention of your radiation treatment will determine the way that the effectiveness of the treatment is measured.
Curative radiation therapy is judged by whether the cancerous cells are dying, the tumor is shrinking, or the cancer has gone into remission. Your doctor will conduct regular scans and reports to check progress, usually on a weekly basis.
Pallative radiation therapy, on the other hand, is judged as being effective when the patient experiences relief from symptoms. For example, tumors can put pressure on surrounding tissue, causing pain. Shrinking a tumor may relieve this pain. Similarly, tumors near the esophagus can make eating or swallowing difficult, so shrinking a tumor can help a patient eat and drink more comfortably.
Most patients can drive themselves to and from radiation treatment. In some cases, however, high doses of radiation may leave a patient too fatigued to drive safely. Similarly, some medications may cause drowsiness that prevents a patient from driving safely after radiation treatment.
Your friend or a family member is absolutely welcome to accompany you to radiation treatment. However, per federal regulations, they cannot be in the room with you during treatment or in the radiation control area. They are welcome to wait in the reception area during your treatment.
For the most part, you do not need to stay away from others following radiation treatment. You will not become radioactive, and can interact with people as normal.
However, if you have a radioactive implant, then your doctor may recommend that you limit your visiting time with pregnant women and young children.
Following seed implantation, you may experience some temporary soreness, tenderness, or swelling. The seeds themselves will not cause you any pain or discomfort.
The seeds which are implanted are radioactive but you are not. However, your doctor may recommend that small children and pregnant women limit their time around you in first two months after treatment.
The prostate seed implant procedure can cause minor trauma to the prostate and surrounding blood vessels or tissue. Swelling, soreness, and tenderness are normal.
It is generally recommended that you avoid any activity that puts pressure on the prostate, such as lifting or vigorous exercise, for 3 – 4 days. High-intensity activities such as horseback riding or bicycle riding should be avoided for at least 6 months following prostate seed implantation.
You may resume sexual activity following prostate seed implantation when you feel able to do so. Neither you nor your semen are radioactive.
You may experience some blood in the semen or some pain during climax. These are temporary side effects and will resolve within several weeks.
Both Dr. Cannick and Dr. Tomlinson are board certified in radiation oncology. This means that they have completed accredited training programs and have successfully passed all of the required board exams. They also both complete Continual Medical Education to stay at the forefront of changes in the field.
How experienced are BRRO doctors at treating patients with radiation therapy?
The Physicians at BRRO have a wealth of knowledge and experience in treating a spectrum of disorders. Dr. Tomlinson has been treating patients in the Anderson area for 30 years and Dr. Cannick relocated here 4 years ago from Charleston, SC.
Blue Ridge Radiation Oncology and AnMed Health Cancer Center are fully accredited. AnMed Health is accredited by the College of Surgeons, the Joint Commission, and is Magnet Recognized.
Quality assurance is one of the most important components of our radiation program. From the initial CT simulation to the initial treatment, our highly trained team which includes medical dosimetrists, radiation physicists, radiation therapists, and radiation oncologists meticulously check and verify every aspect of each treatment course. This system minimizes human error and maximizes patient outcomes.