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Radiation Therapy for Cancer

Last updated April 25, 2018

Ntligent

Radiation Oncology is the use of high-energy radiation to treat cancer. It is used to destroy the cancer cells’ ability to reproduce.


Background Information:

What are the other Names for the Procedure?

  • Cancer Treatment using Radiation Therapy
  • Radiation Oncology - Cancer Therapy
  • Radiation Oncology for Treatment of Cancer

What is Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure? (General Explanation)

  • Radiation Oncology is the use of high-energy radiation to treat cancer. It is used to destroy the cancer cells’ ability to reproduce
  • A radiation oncologist may use radiation to cure cancer, or to relieve a cancer patient's pain, or to improve other symptoms caused by cancer
  • Many patients can be treated with radiation therapy, before or after surgery for cancer
  • Radiation can also be used to stop blood flow to a tumor in highly vascular organs, like the liver

What part of the Body does the Procedure involve?

Cancer Therapy using Radiation may be performed  in the following body organs/regions or conditions (though not exclusively):

  • Lung
  • Prostate
  • Brain
  • Liver
  • Esophagus
  • Rectum
  • Skull base sarcomas
  • Pediatric brain tumors
  • Head and neck
  • Eye melanomas
  • Uterus
  • Cervix
  • Blood vessels

Why is the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure Performed?

Radiation Therapy for Cancer is performed to destroy the cancer cells' ability to reproduce; then, the body naturally gets rid of these cells, by damaging their DNA. This inhibits the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide.

What is the Equipment used? (Description of Equipment)

Radiation Therapy for Cancer may involve the following equipment and procedures:

  • External beam radiation therapy - uses a machine, called a linear accelerator that produces x-rays or gamma rays to destroy any abnormal cells and prevent the growth/regrowth of the tumor
  • Proton therapy - a new type of radiation therapy that uses cyclotrons or synchrotrons to employ energy from positively-charged particles, called protons, instead of electrons
  • Brachytherapy - involves placing radioactive material inside the patient’s body. This allows doctors to deliver higher doses of radiation to more-specific areas of the body
  • Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) - an advanced type of radiation therapy used to manipulate multiple small radiation beams of varying intensities, to precisely match to the shape of a tumor
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery - uses a gamma knife machine that employs gamma rays to treat cancerous and noncancerous brain abnormalities, or a linear accelerator machine to destroy any abnormal cells
  • Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) - used to treat tumors in areas of the body that are prone to movement. It is often used with IMRT, proton therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, or stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT), which utilize computer-controlled x-ray accelerators to deliver precise radiation doses to a cancerous tumor, or to specific areas within the tumor

What are the Recent Advances in the Procedure?

There have been no recent advances to replace Cancer Treatment using Radiation Therapy.

What is the Cost of performing the Procedure?

The cost of the Cancer Treatment using Radiation Therapy depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of your health insurance, annual deductibles, co-pay requirements, out-of-network and in-network of your healthcare providers and healthcare facilities.

In many cases, an estimate may be provided before the procedure. The final amount depends upon the findings during the surgery/procedure and post-operative care that is necessary.

When do you need a Second Opinion prior to Procedure?

  • It is normal for a patient to feel uncomfortable and confused with a sudden inflow of information regarding the Radiation Therapy for Cancer and what needs to be done.
  • If the patient needs further reassurance or a second opinion, a physician will almost always assist in recommending another physician.
  • Also, if the procedure involves multiple steps or has many alternatives, the patient may take a second opinion to understand and choose the best one. They can also choose to approach another physician independently.

What are some Helpful Resources?

http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=intro_onco (accessed on 08/04/2014)

Prior to Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure:

How does the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure work?

There are several Radiation Oncology procedures for Treatment of Cancer and they work in the following manner:

  • External beam radiation therapy - uses a machine, called a linear accelerator that produces x-rays or gamma rays to destroy any abnormal cells and prevent the growth/regrowth of the tumor
  • Proton therapy - a new type of radiation therapy that uses cyclotrons or synchrotrons to employ energy from positively-charged particles, called protons, instead of electrons
  • Brachytherapy - involves placing radioactive material inside the patient’s body. This allows doctors to deliver higher doses of radiation to more-specific areas of the body
  • Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) - an advanced type of radiation therapy used to manipulate multiple small radiation beams of varying intensities, to precisely match to the shape of a tumor
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery - uses a gamma knife machine that employs gamma rays to treat cancerous and noncancerous brain abnormalities, or a linear accelerator machine to destroy any abnormal cells
  • Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) - used to treat tumors in areas of the body that are prone to movement. It is often used with IMRT, proton therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, or stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT), which utilize computer-controlled x-ray accelerators to deliver precise radiation doses to a cancerous tumor, or to specific areas within the tumor

How is the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure Performed?

The Radiation Therapy for Cancer procedure is generally performed in the following manner:

  • The patient will be asked to change into a gown
  • The radiation oncologist will position the patient in the immobilization device, using alignment lasers and marks
  • Masks, pads, or other devices, may be used to help the patient to hold still and in a specific position, during the procedure
  • The radiation therapist will place marks on the patient for guidance
  • The oncologist leaves the room and turns on the equipment (such as linear accelerator) from outside
  • Beams from one or more directions may be used; the beam may be on for as long as several minutes, for each field

Where is the Procedure Performed?

Radiation Therapy for Cancer is generally performed as an outpatient procedure, at a hospital.

Who performs the Procedure?

Medical professionals, who use radiation oncology technology or the information obtained from it, include the following:

  • Radiation oncologists
  • Radiation therapists
  • Radiation oncology nurses
  • Medical radiation physicists
  • Dosimetrists
  • Social workers
  • Dietitians

How long will the Procedure take?

Depending on the Cancer Therapy using Radiation procedure adopted, the patient may receive treatment, 5 days a week, for about 2-10 weeks. Each session may last anywhere between 10-60 minutes.

Who interprets the Result?

Depending on the outcome of the Cancer Treatment using Radiation Therapy, the radiology oncologist interprets the results.

What Preparations are needed, prior to the Procedure?

The following preparations may be needed prior to Radiation Therapy for Cancer:

  • The physician may evaluate the individual’s medical history to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the overall health status of the patient, including information related to the medications that are being currently taken
  • Do inform the medical professional if you have a history of any medical conditions, such as a heart disease, asthma, diabetes, or kidney disease
  • Do inform the medical professional about any allergies, especially related to barium or iodinated contrast material, which may be used in the procedure
  • It is advisable to wear comfortable and loose clothes. Avoid wearing any metal objects or jewelry, as it may interfere with the x-ray
  • It is highly recommended to inform your healthcare professional, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • The patient must avoid eating or drinking at least 8 hours prior to the procedure, depending on when the procedure is arranged
  • Depending on the procedure adopted, the patient may be asked for certain bowel or bladder preparations, before the preparation sessions

What is the Consent Process before the Procedure?

A physician will request your consent for Radiation Therapy for Cancer using an Informed Consent Form.

Consent for the Procedure: A “consent” is your approval to undergo a procedure. A consent form is signed after the risks and benefits of the procedure, and alternative treatment options, are discussed. This process is called informed consent.

You must sign the forms only after you are totally satisfied with the answers to your questions. In case of minors and individuals unable to personally give their consent, the individual’s legal guardian or next of kin, shall give their consent for the procedure.

What are the Benefits versus Risks, for this Procedure?

Following are the benefits of Radiation Therapy for Cancer:

  • The procedures are not invasive and are painless
  • The cancer cells can be destroyed
  • The hospital time is kept to a minimum, for each session

Following are the risks of Radiation Therapy for Cancer:

  • Depending on the location and amount of radiation, the side effects that may follow include:
    • Hair loss at treatment site
    • Skin irritation at treatment site, discoloration of skin
    • Dry mouth
    • Nausea
    • Earaches
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Diarrhea
    • Vomiting
    • Frequent urination
    • Sexual dysfunction

What are the Limitations of the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure?

Following are the limitations of Radiation Therapy for Cancer:

  • Oxygen increases the effectiveness of a given dose of radiation by forming DNA-damaging free radicals. Solid tumors can outgrow their blood supply, causing a low oxygen environment
  • Tumor cells in environments with low oxygen may be as much as 2-3 times more resistant to radiation damage, than those in a normal oxygen environment

What are some Questions for your Physician?

Some of the basic questions that you might ask your healthcare provider or physician are as follows:

  • What is Radiation Therapy for Cancer?
  • Why is this procedure necessary? How will it help?
  • How soon should I get it done? Is it an emergency?
  • Who are the medical personnel involved in this procedure?
  • Where is the biopsy procedure performed?
  • What are the risks while performing the procedure?
  • What are the complications that might take place, during recovery?
  • What are the possible side effects from the procedure? How can I minimize these side effects?
  • How long will it take to recover? When can I resume normal work?
  • How many such procedures have you (the physician) performed?
  • Are there any lifestyle restrictions or modifications required, after the procedure is performed?
  • Are there any follow-up tests, periodic visits to the healthcare facility required, after the procedure?
  • Is there any medication that needs to be taken for life, after the procedure?
  • What are the costs involved?

During the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure:

What is to be expected during the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure?

The following may be expected during a Radiation Therapy for Cancer session:

  • The patient may hear buzzing or clicking noises during the therapy
  • The patient may see a colored light, when he/she receives the treatment

What kind of Anesthesia is given during the Procedure?

No anesthesia is given during Cancer Treatment using Radiation Therapy.

How much Blood will you lose during the Procedure?

There is no blood loss involved during Cancer Treatment using Radiation Therapy.

What are the possible Risks and Complications during the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure?

Cancer Treatment using Radiation Therapy has certain side effects, which depend on the tumor location and amount of radiation administered:

  • Hair loss at treatment site
  • Skin irritation at the treatment site
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Earaches
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Frequent urination
  • Sexual dysfunction

What Post-operative Care is needed at the Healthcare Facility after the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure?

There is no postoperative care necessary after Radiation Therapy for Cancer, at the healthcare facility.

After the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure:

What is to be expected after the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure?

  • The physician may recommend a follow-up exam after the Cancer Treatment using Radiation Therapy is complete
  • This may include a physical check-up, imaging procedure(s), and blood or other lab tests

When do you need to call your Physician?

Do contact the physician, if the side effects of Radiation Therapy for Cancer treatment become too painful. 

What Post-Operative Care is needed at Home after the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure?

Generally, there is no postoperative care necessary after the Radiation Therapy for Cancer, unless the side effects are severe.

How long does it normally take fully recover, from the Procedure?

Generally, the patient needs no recovery time after the Radiation Therapy for Cancer. However, in some cases the side effects of the radiation treatment may be severe.

Additional Information:

What happens to tissue (if any), taken out during the Procedure?

No tissue is extracted from the patient during a Radiation Therapy for Cancer. 

When should you expect results from the pathologist regarding the tissue taken out, during the Procedure?

Since no tissue is removed during the procedure, a pathologist does not get involved in the care of the patient.

Who will you receive a Bill from, after the Radiation Therapy for Cancer radiology procedure?

It is important to note that the number of bills that the patient may receive depends on the arrangement the healthcare facility has with the physician and other healthcare providers.

Sometimes, the patient may get a single bill that includes the healthcare facility and the consultant physician charges. Sometimes, the patient might get multiple bills depending on the healthcare provider involved. For instance, the patient may get a bill from:

  • The hospital, where the procedure is performed
  • A radiologist or radiation oncologist, performing the procedure
  • Healthcare providers, physicians, who are involved in the process

The patient is advised to inquire and confirm the type of billing, before the Radiation Therapy for Cancer treatment procedure is performed.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Aug. 25, 2014
Last updated: April 25, 2018

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