Treatment Overview: What to Expect

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is a non-invasive treatment for cancer and other benign diseases. Radiotherapy destroys cancer cells or benign diseased cells by killing their DNA. For those patients diagnosed with cancer, the majority will receive radiotherapy during the course of their treatment.  Based upon your unique cancer diagnosis or benign disease, your radiation oncologist will recommend the best and the most advanced treatment available for your type and stage of disease.

Consultation

Your first visit to the Department of Radiation Oncology is called a Consultation.  The purpose of this meeting is to evaluate and determine your most optimal treatment option.  You are welcome to bring along family or friend(s) with you to your consultation visit. 

Richard and Annette Bloch Radiation Oncology Pavilion: Limited parking spots are available to radiation therapy patients in front of the Richard and Annette Bloch Radiation Oncology Pavilion located on Rainbow Boulevard (campus map). After you have parked, you will need to obtain a parking pass from the patient representative inside the lobby. If all of the parking spots are filled, additional visitor parking is located off Olathe Boulevard in the Olathe II parking garage (campus map). If you park in the Olathe II parking garage, please bring your parking ticket to the Radiation Oncology lobby for the patient representative to validate the ticket.

Community Cancer Program (CCP) Facilities: Click here for information regarding CCP facility locations and parking.

After checking in at the reception desk, you will be escorted into an examination room where a radiation oncology nurse will gather pertinent information, review any materials you brought, and start a physical examination.  The radiation oncologist, and possibly a resident or physician assistant, will join the nurse and review your medical history and any pertinent studies (CT, MRI scans, laboratory results, etc.) and complete the physical exam.

During this visit, treatment options will be presented to you and the radiation oncologist will discuss the benefits and potential risks of radiation therapy and answer any questions you may have. 

Simulation

If radiation therapy is the best course of treatment, you will be scheduled for a planning session called "simulation."  During this visit, a computed tomography (CT) scan will take x-ray images from all angles to create a three-dimensional image that your physician and dosimetry staff can use to precisely outline the areas in your body that need to be treated and make calculations on how most optimally to treat you.

After checking in for your appointment, the radiation therapist will take you to the simulation room.  You may need to change into a gown, and if so you will be provided privacy.  Once you are ready, you will be asked to lie on the examination table in a position that is appropriate for your treatment area. 

To aid you in staying still during treatment, various assistive devices are created that conform to your body that will be used during each of your treatments.  These may include:

  • Plastic Mesh Masks - These are used for the head and neck region. When wet, the plastic conforms to your body and hardens as it dries.
  • Foam (Alpha) Cradles - These are used for the chest, abdomen, breast, and pelvic areas and are made of liquid Styrofoam that expands to conform to your body before hardening.
  • Bite Block Trays - A customized bite block that is attached to an infrared detector array may also be added to a plastic mesh mask to monitor your position during treatment.

Once you are positioned and immobilized, you will undergo a planning CT scan which takes between 3 - 5 minutes.  It may be necessary to use intravenous (IV) or oral contrast to help visualize certain structures and tissues.  Additionally, the skin over the treatment area may be outlined with an ink pen to aid in setting up your daily treatments. 

Your simulation appointment will be one of your longer visits and can take anywhere from 1 - 2 hours.  Once all of the above is complete, you will be free to leave.

Treatment Plan

After your simulation visit, your radiation oncologist, dosimetry staff, and medical physicist staff work together to interpret the information gathered from your CT scan to determine the orientation, and optimal number, of radiation beams to effectively treat the tumor while sparring as much of the normal surrounding tissue.  The process to determine your treatment plan can take a week or longer.

First Treatment Visit

Once your treatment plan is finalized, you will be contacted by a nurse to schedule your treatment visits.  On your first treatment day, you will be taken to the Linear Accelerator (or "Linac") treatment machine room by a radiation therapist.  You will be positioned, utilizing any immobilization devices that were made for you at your simulation, and the therapist will double-check all measurements.  Then, your radiation oncologist will verify your setup and check all the measurements again prior to treatment delivery. 

When everything is verified, the therapist will go to the treatment console right outside of the room so they can operate the Linac machine.  During treatment, the therapist is able to see and hear you on a closed-circuit camera and speak to you via an intercom.  If at any time you need assistance, just notify the therapist who will immediately stop the treatment and enter the room.

Radiation therapy is a similar experience to getting an x-ray in that you will not see or feel anything because radiation is invisible.  The machine may make clicking or whirring noises during treatment.  These noises are normal and just a part of how the linac works.

This first treatment visit will be one of your longer treatment visits, between 45 minutes to an hour, due to the extra steps to double-check everything before the initial treatment.

On Treatment Visits

Radiation treatments are typically given daily, Monday through Friday, for approximately 2 - 8 weeks.  It is very important to do everything you can not to miss an appointment because unnecessary delays can lessen the effectiveness of therapy.  Each of your daily visits may take approximately 30 minutes. 

Weekly Management

At least once a week, you will meet with your radiation oncologist who will review your progress.  Depending on your response to therapy, it is possible that your physician may revise your treatment plan.

End Treatment Visit

On your last treatment day, you will meet with your radiation oncologist to discuss any concerns you have, address any side effects you may be experiencingKUMC Bell, and to schedule your first follow-up visit, which typically occurs 4-6 weeks following the completion of therapy.

Traditions: Ringing in Joy
Ringing the bell, donated by one patient's family member, in the Department of Radiation Oncology at KUMC after your final treatment marks a special milestone in your journey and provides inspiring motivation for patients and staff.

Follow-up Visits

Follow-up visits are generally scheduled at 3-6 month intervals after your first follow-up appointment, and provide the opportunity for the radiation oncologist to monitor your progress as well as address any issues you may be experiencing.

Last modified: Dec 09, 2013
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