What is Radiation therapy?
Radiation is a special type of energy carried by waves or a stream of particles. It can come from radioactive substances and special machines, most commonly, a linear accelerator (linac). There are different levels of radiation energy such as radiation from the sun or radiation used to make a chest x-ray or CT scan. At high levels, radiation has been proven to have the ability to effectively treat certain types of cancer. The use of these high-energy rays or particles to treat cancer is called radiation therapy.
Cancer is an overgrowth of abnormal cells. These cells grow rapidly to make new cells. Their ability to replicate quickly and invade surrounding normal tissues makes cancer cells different from normal cells. One way to stop the cancer from growing is to interfere with the cancer cell’s ability to replicate. High levels of radiation can cause changes in the cancer cell that stops the cell’s ability to replicate and eventually kills the cancer cell.
How is Radiation Therapy Given?
Who Gives the Radiation Treatment?
The radiation oncologist is a physician who has completed a residency in radiation oncology. The radiation oncologist is responsible for determining the role of radiation therapy in a patient’s care, planning the treatment, and evaluating the patient's response to the treatment. The physicist and dosimetrist help the radiation oncologist develop the treatment plan. They are responsible for designing the immobilization devices, generating the computer plan, calculating the dose of radiation, and conducting weekly checks to make sure the treatment is being given accurately. The radiation therapists are responsible for the simulation procedure and the daily treatments. Each day they position the patient for treatment, ensure that the radiation field is accurate, and deliver the treatment. They work closely with the radiation oncologist to identify any shifts or changes in the field before the daily treatment is administered.
The nurses are responsible for coordinating all of the patient’s care both during and after treatment, such as assisting the radiation oncologist with making appointments, evaluating symptoms related to the treatment, and making referrals for social services and nutritional evaluations as needed. In addition, they provide patient and family education regarding the treatment, its side effects, medications, and long-term planning. Additional support staff include social workers, secretaries, clerical staff, and research staff.
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