Radiation Therapy: What to Expect
If radiation therapy has been recommended to treat your cancer, understanding what happens during radiation therapy and what you can expect after your first radiation treatment is important. Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers provides the most advanced radiation therapy treatments to thousands of patients every year throughout Colorado.
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Who will oversee my radiation therapy?
A doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer — called a radiation oncologist — will oversee your radiation therapy. If you are having more than one type of treatment, your radiation oncologist will work closely with the rest of your cancer team to coordinate your care. Your radiation oncologist also communicates with your primary physician about your treatment plan, your progress, and any follow-up care that may be needed.
In addition to your radiation oncologist, other team members involved in administering your treatment include:
- Radiation physicist: Calibrates radiation equipment and ensures it delivers the proper amount of radiation as prescribed by your radiation oncologist.
- Dosimetrist: Uses computer imaging to create a radiation delivery plan based on the location of the tumor.
- Radiation therapist: Positions you for treatment and operates radiation equipment.
- Radiation therapy nurse: Educates you on radiation therapy, assesses your response to treatment and helps you manage any side effects that you experience.
How often will I need radiation therapy? And how many radiation treatments will I need?
Radiation therapy treatment schedules vary widely based on:
- Type and location of cancer
- The goal of your treatment: whether it is to rid your body of cancer, slow the cancer’s growth and progression, or ease the symptoms of your cancer
- Type of radiation therapy used
Most external beam radiation, when used to shrink a tumor before surgery, is administered five days a week for five to eight weeks. Fewer treatments may be used if the goal is easing cancer-related symptoms.
Internal radiation (brachytherapy) is typically administered over the course of a few weeks with at least a week in between each treatment.
Will I have other treatments in addition to radiation therapy?
In some cases, radiation therapy will be the only treatment needed to treat a cancer, but often it is used in conjunction with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or some combination.
- Radiation therapy used as preoperative therapy to shrink a tumor that will then be removed surgically is referred to as neoadjuvant therapy.
- When radiation is administered at the same time as chemotherapy or immunotherapy, it’s called concurrent treatment.
- Radiation therapy used as a treatment after surgery or chemotherapy is called adjuvant therapy. Its goal is to kill off any cancer cells that may have been left behind to reduce the chances of recurrence.