Life changes profoundly after a cancer diagnosis. Beyond the emotional turmoil that accompanies a cancer diagnosis, patients face a practical necessity: to develop a plan to live with and fight cancer.
When it comes to cancer, the treatment process begins at diagnosis. This is the time when you should begin to take an active role in your cancer care by asking questions, accessing resources, and knowing your options so you can make informed treatment decisions. Sometimes the treatment process is called the “cancer pathway.” The cancer pathway is the patient’s journey from the initial suspicion of cancer through investigations, diagnosis and treatment.
Your treatment plan will depend on your physician’s expert opinion based on the diagnosed tumor or metastasis. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for cancer. Treatment options include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy and more, and in some cases a patient will require a combination to maximize the effectiveness of treatment. Also, multidisciplinary care, which engages a team of experts to provide the best treatment mix for certain patients, is becoming increasingly common.
Radiation therapy, like the kind administered at Alliance Cancer Care Arizona, is one of the most common treatments for cancer. It uses high-energy particles or waves, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams, or protons, to destroy or damage cancer cells. Other names for radiation therapy are radiotherapy, irradiation, or x-ray therapy.
The following are the steps generally followed when a patient is preparing for radiation therapy. These may differ slightly depending on the protocol at your treatment facility or if your treatment is being done on an urgent basis, but many of the steps are the same across treatment facilities.
Initial Consultation – Whenever radiation therapy is being considered as part of your treatment plan, a consultation visit will be arranged for you with a radiation oncologist, a physician specially trained in using radiation therapy for treating your type of cancer. The purpose of this visit is to discuss the role of radiation therapy in your treatment, to determine the type of radiation therapy to be used, the treatment plan for your treatment, and to answer any questions you may have. The consultation will take one or more hours, depending on your particular situation.
CT Simulation – Before radiation treatments begin, you will go through a treatment planning process called “simulation.” This process is where your radiation treatment team will precisely identify the area on your body where you will receive radiation. Positioning is extremely important in radiation therapy and your body will be positioned carefully in order to get the best radiation treatment. You will be in the same position during every treatment, and you will need to remain still during the treatments.
Technical Planning Process – After simulation, details from the procedure are forwarded to medical radiation dosimetrists and medical physicists. These professionals perform highly technical calculations that will be used to set the treatment machine (linear accelerator). The dosimetrist and physicist work closely with your radiation oncologist to develop the treatment plan, a process that can take up to a week or more.
Daily Treatments – Treatments are usually given once a day, Monday through Friday, for a number of weeks. Each treatment generally takes only 10 to 20 minutes; however, you will likely be in the department for an hour each day. Sometimes, twice daily radiation treatments will be recommended. The treatment is not painful, nor will you feel anything when the treatment occurs. Your physician will see you weekly while you undergo treatment to check your progress and manage any side effects that occur.
Follow-Up Care – Once your radiation treatments have been completed, or a day or two before your last treatment, you will have a final visit with your physician. During this visit, your doctor will perform an examination and discuss follow-up care. In general, follow-up appointments occur between 2 and 6 weeks after the completion of radiation therapy.
If you, or a loved one, have recently been diagnosed with cancer and you have questions about treatment options, please contact Alliance Cancer Care Arizona today.