One of the most promising advances in cancer treatment of the past decade is a type of radiation treatment called Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy, or IMRT radiation.
IMRT radiation is a type of external beam radiation that uses multiple beams to precisely shape the high doses of radiation around the tumor and attempt to avoid giving high doses to surrounding critical organs that can’t tolerate these high doses. This allows the radiation oncologist to reduce the possible acute and long-term toxicities of treatment and thereby still give curative doses of radiation to the tumor.
For many types of cancer, success in controlling tumor growth is closely linked to the amount of radiation delivered to the tumor. But with conventional types of radiation, concern about damaging surrounding healthy tissue may limit radiation doses. Because IMRT radiation delivers precisely targeted radiation, there is less damage to surrounding, healthy tissues, and higher, more effective doses can be directed at the tumor itself.
At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, our radiation oncologists provide IMRT radiation to treat prostate, brain, lung, and head and neck cancers. In addition, some Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers breast cancer patients are able to be treated with IMRT as part of the accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI) clinical trial.
Many patients have questions about their cancer treatment, and radiation in particular. Here’s what they need to know:
Preparing for IMRT and other types of radiation treatment
Before treatment itself begins, your radiation care team, which includes your radiation oncologist, radiation therapist, and nurse, among others, will carefully plan your treatment.
As the first step in creating a treatment plan, your radiation oncologist may order imaging tests such as X-rays, CT/PET scans, or MRI images. Using those images and national treatment guidelines, the treatment team will decide the best dose for you and your tumor, and how many treatments you will need.
With a treatment plan in place, you’ll undergo a 30-minute simulation session as the first step in radiation planning. During the simulation, the radiation therapist and doctor will identify the exact spot where radiation will be directed. The radiation therapist may put permanent marks or “tattoos” on your skin to indicate where the radiation will be directed.
During IMRT radiation treatment
The entire treatment process will take between 15 and 30 minutes each session.
In the treatment room, you will lie down on a table. The radiation therapists will position your body in the same position as during the simulation session (see above).
Once you are positioned, the radiation therapists will leave the room, in order to avoid exposure to the radiation. However, they will be able to see you through a viewing screen or window, and are even able to talk with you during treatment using an intercom.
If you feel ill or uncomfortable during treatment, let your radiation therapists know.
You won’t see, feel, or hear the radiation itself. However, the machine itself can be noisy and may make noises as it rotates around you. This is normal, and nothing to be alarmed by.
The radiation treatment itself will continue only for about one to five minutes.
After IMRT radiation treatment
When you leave the treatment center, you’ll be able to do normal daily activities.
IMRT radiation does not make you radioactive, and you don’t need to avoid touching, hugging, or kissing other people because of the treatment.
You may feel more tired than usual after treatment.
Call a member of your radiation care team if:
- You have pain that doesn’t go away.
- You have new or unusual lumps, bumps or swelling.
- You experience nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
- You experience unexpected or unplanned weight loss.
- You develop a persistent fever or cough.
- You develop unusual rashes, bruises or bleeding.