What is Radiation Therapy?
Radiation therapy is the use of ionizing radiation in the treatment of malignant tumors or cancers. Radiation can be administered in several different ways, the most common being through high energy x-rays.
A tumor is a growth or swelling on the surface of or inside the body. Tumors may be benign or malignant. Most benign tumors need only simple treatment which may include radiation therapy.
Malignant tumors can grow out of control and may spread within the body. They must be treated promptly to prevent further growth. Radiation therapy kills the cells of the tumor by preventing the from reproducing. The growth of the tumor can be slowed and in many cases completely stopped. Depending on the type of cancer, radiation therapy may be used alone or in combination with surgery, or drugs (chemotherapy).
Meet the Radiation Therapy Team
You are first referred to a radiation oncologist. The radiation oncologist is a medical doctor with many years of specialized training in the treatment of cancer and related medical diseases by radiation therapy. He or she examines you and studies your medical history. The need for treatment and the treatment schedule is discussed with you and your referring physician.
Under care in the department, you will meet a number of highly trained professionals. The radiation oncologist is the the leader of a team of individuals that will help you with your treatment. He or she will make the decisions about whether radiation therapy is needed, the areas to be treated, the doses to be given and the equipment to be used.
You are examined at least once a week by the radiation oncologist who supervises your treatment and who makes any changes necessary to match the changes in the tumor and your general condition. Your radiation oncologist manages any side effects and notes any physical changes, keeps in contact with your referring doctor and if necessary, recommends other forms of treatment to achieve the best result. When your treatment is complete, you will be examined periodically to keep track of your progress.
Resident physicians help your doctor and take an active part in your treatment. They are licensed physicians who are training in the advanced specialty of radiation oncology. They interview and examine you weekly and are excellent sources of information if you have questions.
Radiation therapists, under the direction of your doctor, give you the radiation treatments. They schedule your daily appointments, position you on the table, adjust the devices used in your treatment, operate the machine, take the appropriate films, and keep records of your treatment course.
Physician assistants, advanced nurse practitioners, and registered nurses all work with the doctor in coordinating and monitoring your care and treatment and are able to assist you with any medical problems that may arise. They are always available to you and your family and are also a good source of information.
Radiation (or medical) physicists are scientists who specialize in the delivery and measurement of radiation. Dosimetrists specialize in radiation dosage. Both are important components of the team.