What is Radiation Treatment Like?

Expert Analysis Highlights:

  • This video provides patients with the chance to see what actually happens during the course of radiation treatment
  • On a daily bases there is no pain or discomfort with the treatment
  • Treatment course can extend anywhere from 2-8 weeks
  • Side effects are highly dependent on the region of the body being treated and the total dose

Radiation treatments are used in the majority of patients with cancer, and yet most patients have little idea of what to expect. This video is helpful in showing what happens during the course of a single radiation treatment. Some take home messages include that the technology has become relatively sophisticated, that the treatment has to be precisely delivered to one defined area of the body, and that on a daily bases there is no pain or discomfort with the treatment.

Prior to this patient’s treatments, a series of events had already taken place. You can see in the video that the patient’s head is immobilized by plastic mask that is fastened onto the table. The purpose of this and other forms of immobilization is to assure that the carefully planned treatment is able to be reproduced each day when the patient comes for their daily treatment. Treatment course can extend anywhere from 2-8 weeks and the ability of the treatment to hit its target is highly dependent on the ability to precisely reproduce the position of the patient each day. Also prior to the treatment, a CAT scan of the patient while he was immobilized in his mask was obtained. This information is transferred to treatment planning computers and the doctor outlines the targeted region and the normal tissues to avoid. Working with his team, the doctor then helps determine the optimal angle of beam entrance and exit and the shape and intensity of each field. In the video, four fields were used: one from the front, one from the back and one from each side. These four beams will have a mutual intersection point at the targeted region where the addition from each beam will result in a selectively high dose to this region. Within the treatment head of the machine are a collimation system that can shape the beam edges into almost any shape which further adds to the precision of the dose delivery.

Radiation treatments are a scary endeavor for any patient and the treatment can cause some side effects that are highly dependent on the region of the body being treated and the total dose. What I liked about the video is that it provides patients with the chance to see what actually happens within the treatment room. In doing so, I hope you were left with the impression that it’s not that bad and when it is warranted it can provide a great service to cancer patients.

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