What is Radiation Therapy and how does it work?


Cancer is a disease that causes normal cells in the body to grow out of control. Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying and growing. Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation generated by a machine from outside the patient’s body or by radioactive sources implanted inside the patient.
Radiation therapy is painless, and you do not feel anything while the treatments are given. About 50 to 60 percent of cancer patients are treated with radiation. Radiation therapy can be used alone in the fight against cancer or in conjunction with surgery and/or chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is used in the hope of curing cancer, as well as to help relieve a cancer patient’s pain.


What to Expect: Radiation Therapy


On the day of your first treatment, you will be positioned using your immobilization device on the treatment table. The Tomotherapy machine will then take a CT scan of the treatment region using its high-energy beam, and the images will be superimposed on your simulation CT scan. If these two sets of images do not exactly superimpose, the Tomotherapy machine will adjust the treatment table or its programmed plan to deliver your treatment as close as possible to the planned treatment.

The actual treatment may take five to fifteen minutes to complete. You will not feel anything during the treatment, and you will not see any movement of the machine, which is shaped like a large CT scanner. During the treatment, the high-energy Linear Accelerator within the machine will be rotating in a pattern of a CT scan and will be continuously changing to shape itself to your anatomy. This process will be repeated for every one of your treatments to assure the greatest precision and accuracy. Your radiation therapists lead this process.

Radiation treatments are typically given daily, Monday through Friday.

Pre-treatment Consultation


Because we care about you as a person, not just a cancer patient, we want you to understand every step of your treatment process. Most patients are referred to us after specialists have completed tests that show if cancer is present and at what stage. At this point, your personalized treatment begins with a pre-treatment consultation with one of our radiation oncologists.

During the consultation, a radiation oncologist will review the results of previous tests to determine if TomoTherapy radiation therapy is a treatment option. You will learn about how your treatment works and possible side effects you might experience. The oncologist may order additional tests like X-ray examinations, blood work or scans.

You will also be evaluated by a radiation oncology nurse who will take your pulse, blood pressure, weight, health history and history of your present illness.

We encourage you to have a family member or significant other accompany you to this visit. There will be a lot of information discussed at the consultation, so it is helpful to have a supportive friend there to help you process the information, ask questions and take notes. You can expect this meeting to last at least an hour.

Treatment Simulation


 After the initial consultation, a treatment simulation is performed in order to gather more information about the location and size of the tumor and the surrounding tissues and organs. CT simulation has become one of the most sophisticated tools used in radiation therapy planning. With the use of the CT simulation, the accuracy of radiation therapy is greatly enhanced. CT simulation allows the radiation oncologist to directly visualize your particular anatomy and treat only the targeted tissue while identifying and avoiding critical structures. This greatly reduces your unwanted side effects.

Treatment Planning


Your radiation oncologist and other members of your treatment team carefully study the information gathered during the simulation to better understand your specific case and to determine the appropriate course of treatment. Taking your general medical condition into consideration, your treatment team uses computer-aided technology to develop a plan that provides the safest and most effective treatment for you. Your dosimetrist leads this process.

TomoTherapy Treatment


 The TomoTherapy Hi-Art system is one of the most advanced and versatile radiation therapy systems currently available for the treatment of a wide variety of cancers, and you will not find it anywhere else in Macon County.

TomoTherapy is so precise, it opens the door to treat certain types of cancer that previous radiation methods could not.

The Hi-Art treatment system works by delivering intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) with a helical (spiral) delivery pattern. Photon radiation is produced by a linear accelerator (or linac for short), which travels in multiple circles around you and moves in unison with a device called a multi-leaf collimator, or MLC. Meanwhile, the couch is also moving, guiding you slowly through the center of the ring. Each time the linac makes a loop around you, it directs a unique, optimized set of radiation beamlets at your tumor. Quite literally, the Tomo process runs rings around your cancer! 

To learn more about TomoTherapy, visit www.tomotherapy.com/patient.

To find out if you are a candidate for TomoTherapy, call The Cancer Care Center at St. Mary's Hospital, (217) 464-2900.

Radiation FAQs


Q. Will I lose my hair?
A. You will only lose your hair if we are treating in the head region.

Q. Is it safe to be around other people while receiving radiation treatments?
A. Yes. While receiving external radiation treatments, you are not at risk of endangering others.

Q. How long will my treatment session last?
A. Each treatment session will last between 15 and 20 minutes.

Q. Do I have to come every day?
A. Yes. Treatments are given Monday through Friday.

Q. How tired will I be?
A. Fatigue is a side effect of radiation, but most people are able to continue with their daily activities.

Q. What are some of the other common side effects to radiation treatment?
A. Since radiation treatment is localized to the area of your body with the tumor, your side effects generally are limited to that area as well. Your skin might be red, irritated or swollen at the treatment site. Please talk to your doctor about the side effects you might experience based on the location of your tumor.

Q. Can I drive myself?
A. Most patients are able to drive themselves to treatment, but check with your physician to make sure it is safe for your particular case.

Q. Does radiation therapy hurt?
A. No. Radiation therapy is much like receiving an X-ray. You will not feel anything while receiving treatment.

Q. Will I have to wait long before getting an appointment to see the doctor?
A. No. Most new patients are able to schedule an appointment within one week of calling.

Q. What happens after my radiation treatment is finished?
A. Every patient’s treatment plan is unique. Talk to your doctor to find out what your next steps will be. Remember, you are not alone in this fight. We are always here for you after treatment.

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