A Patient's Guide to Radiation Oncology
At the Radiation Oncology Department in the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, our expert team of radiation oncologists and healthcare professionals works together to make sure you know what to expect during your treatment with us.
Getting Started: Your First Visit
Your first appointment will be an initial consultation to find out if radiation oncology is the appropriate treatment for your needs. During this meeting you will discuss radiation treatment, how it will help you and how to prepare. It is a good idea to bring someone with you who can help to remind you of any questions you have and write down answers to your questions.
CT Simulation Scan
If radiation therapy is prescribed, your next visit will include a CT simulation scan of the affected area. You might need an IV for contrast to be administered, or you may be asked to drink a small amount of contrast. If you need to limit food and/or drink, you will be informed beforehand.
During a CT simulation, the radiation therapist will position you in the same way you will need to lay during treatment. To make sure the position is the same each time, a body mold or face mask could be created. After the scan, small skin markings or tattoos are placed on the body to use for alignment. This is a scan of the cancer area that will be treated. The images are collected and sent to a physicist for planning with your radiation oncologist.
Preparing a Treatment Plan
After the scan, a custom plan of radiation will take normally about 3–7 business days to develop. When your plan is ready, you will receive a call letting you know the day and time of the first treatment. When you come for the first treatment, you will be given a schedule of the remaining days and times for your radiation therapy. The radiation oncologist will also give the dosimetrist or medical physicist the prescription that includes how much radiation you need, the targeted area and the best type of radiation treatment to use. A physicist will use the images to prepare a treatment plan that meets the prescription determined by your radiation oncologist. The length of treatment is different for each method of treatment. The number of treatments will depend on your type of cancer and the treatment plan designed by your physicist and doctor.
When your plan is ready, you will receive a call letting you know the day and time of the first treatment. When you come for the first treatment, you will be given a schedule of the remaining days and times for your radiation therapy.
Radiation Therapy: What to Expect
On your first day of treatment, you will be shown the machine that will be used for your radiation therapy. The radiation therapist will explain the treatment setup and process.
Your ongoing treatment will be delivered by a radiation therapist, and you will have weekly check-ins with your doctor. This meeting is to check on any side effects or changes in your health. Even though you will not see the doctor every day, the doctor is in close communication with your radiation therapists and reviews any X-rays obtained during your treatment.
Each day, you will check into the clinic and change into a gown for treatment. Once in the treatment room, the radiation therapists will position you the same as during the CT scan, making sure you are aligned correctly each time.
During treatment, the therapists leave the room to administer the radiation. You are monitored from the control room and can be seen and heard over video and intercom. You do not feel radiation while it is being given and you are safe to be around other people. You will hear noises from the machine and see it move during treatment, this is normal.
Recovery After Radiation Treatment
After radiation treatment is complete, the effects of radiation continue to work in the body on the cancer cells. The side effects should go away gradually. At your follow-up appointments these side effects will be monitored.