Information for Patients – Radiation Therapy
General Radiotherapy Information for Patients
This is general radiotherapy information for patients and their families. It is important to know that Radiotherapy treatments vary from patient to patient even if your cancer is the same. Don’t hesitate to speak to a health professional directly linked to your treatment i.e. your consultant, nurse, or radiation therapist if you require further information.
What is Radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy is the use of high energy x-rays used to treat cancer.
Most patients receiving radiotherapy will either receive external x-ray or electron beam treatments. Radiotherapy is like getting an x-ray and nothing is seen or felt during these treatments. A machine called a linear accelerator is used to administer the radiation treatment. Radiation is used more and more in medicine and the radiotherapy team is specifically qualified in this area.
Why is Radiotherapy needed?
Radiotherapy is very important in the management of cancer. Over 50% of patients receive radiotherapy at some point during the management of their cancer. Radiotherapy is a localised treatment to the cancer site killing the cancer cells but allows normal cells to repair themselves generally. Radiotherapy can be given alone or in conjunction with other treatments to kill the cancer cells. These treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. The medical team decides on the best course of treatment suited to the patient.
Radiotherapy can be given to help cure the disease (Radical treatment) or to alleviate symptoms (Palliative treatment) of the disease. The course of treatment can be different for a patient receiving radical radiotherapy treatment or palliative treatment.
Radical radiotherapy is used with the intent to kill the cancer cells and cure the disease. A course of radical radiotherapy treatment can be anything from 2 to 8 weeks Monday to Friday. These treatments administer a small dose of radiation a day to kill the cancer cells but to allow normal cells time to recover.
Palliative radiotherapy is used to alleviate symptoms of cancer e.g. pain. When cancer is no longer curable palliative radiotherapy may be used. Lower doses of radiotherapy are given than for curative treatment, usually over a shorter period of time (sometimes just a single treatment).
Information for patients on the profession of a Radiation Therapist
A radiation therapist is a highly skilled health professional with an honours bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. Specific knowledge on this course would include cancer medicine, anatomy, physiology, radiation protection, and medical physics. Clinical placements in hospitals are an integral part of the course.
Radiation therapists are responsible for the delivery of radiotherapy treatments prescribed by the radiation oncologist. Radiation therapists are skilled in the use of the linear accelerator (treatment machine) and other treatment equipment. Radiation Therapists give patients information on planning scans, treatment, and possible side effects when they come for their first appointment.
Generally, a planning CT scan is required to plan the treatment. The radiation therapists will carry this out and will put the patient in the treatment position. Certain equipment is used to keep the patient in the same position daily. The radiation therapist will apply small permanent marks to the skin or temporary skin marks so the patient’s position is reproducible every day. The radiation therapist gives support to the patient at all times during the scanning procedure.
Radiation therapists are vital in the management of patients throughout their radiotherapy journey. Radiation Therapists have continual contact with patients throughout their course of treatment. They monitor and observe patients’ side effects from treatment and assess their emotional needs on a daily basis and give advice. Radiation Therapists work within a multidisciplinary team and refer patients to nurses, dieticians, social workers, and consultants when necessary. Generally, the radiation therapist’s book in the daily appointment times for treatments. Any queries regarding these can be directed to them.
Patients are required to be in the same position for treatment every day for 10-15mins so it is important to let the radiation therapists know if it is uncomfortable at any stage. The radiation therapists are responsible for correct patient position every day and it will take them a few minutes in doing this every day. The Radiation Therapists must leave the room when they are taking x- rays images and treating and are watching via camera at all times or through a window. If a patient requires assistance at any stage, the radiation therapists will come in immediately. The radiation therapists offer support to patients throughout treatment and can speak to them via an intercom system if needed.
The treatment plan which is specifically tailored to each patient is monitored and checked by the radiation therapists continually, if any adjustments are required, these will be done. The radiation therapists consult with the radiation oncologist if needed. The radiation therapists are responsible for the quality assurance of the machine to ensure that it is working correctly every day. This is done in the morning time before treatment starts on the machine. The radiation therapists acquire images of the treatment area prior to treatment and are highly skilled at looking at radiographic images and monitoring the daily treatments.
Please do not hesitate to speak to any radiation therapist associated with your treatment about any concerns you may have.