What is radiation oncology
Radiation oncology is the use of x-rays, gamma rays and other forms of radiation to treat cancer. It is also called radiation therapy, and may sometimes be used to treat non-cancerous conditions as well.
Radiation is used to treat cancer because it destroys the ability of cells to grow and multiply. With careful aiming and dosage, the radiation can destroy cancer cells, however radiation may also affect the surrounding healthy cells, which recover and resume normal cell activity. There may be side effects which your physician will discuss with you.
Radiation can be given externally or internally. External radiation uses a machine like the linear accelerator to direct high-energy radiation beams to the cancer site. Machines called simulators and planning computers are used to prepare for this type of treatment. Radiation therapy can be received on an outpatient or inpatient basis.
For certain types of cancer, internal therapy may be used. This involves placing radioactive material (implants) near the cancer. This may require surgery and sometimes a short hospital stay.
What to expect.
An individual's first visit is with a radiation oncologist, a physician who specializes in the treatment of cancer. X-rays are reviewed during this visit. A plan of treatment is discussed and a person may be scheduled for a simulation, a procedure needed to precisely target the beam of radiation at the cancer.
A person should wear comfortable, easy-to-change clothing, leaving all valuables at home.
The individual is asked to change into a hospital gown for the simulation and then placed on an x-ray table which will imitate the treatment machine.
A radiation therapist places ink marks on the person¡¦s skin which are used to align the body properly for actual treatment. The staff may also design lead, plastic or plaster molds to place between the person and the treatment equipment. Some molds act as a shield to keep radiation away from healthy tissue, and other molds hold the body in the correct position during treatment.
The treatment machine is called a linear accelerator. It is large and sounds like a vacuum cleaner, but the person does not see, hear or feel the radiation. The average treatment takes about 15 - 30 minutes, although they will be receiving radiation for only two minutes of that time.
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