Once you are diagnosed with cancer your doctor at radiotherapy hospitals in Trichy will design a personalized treatment plan and discuss it with you. This treatment plan is your pathway to healing and recovery.  Do you know that as a cancer patient, you might have to undergo radiation therapy as part of your treatment plan?

Radiation can be used as a standalone treatment option or in combination with other cancer treatments to help reduce the size of the tumour to facilitate easy removal with surgical procedures or to make it more sensitive to chemotherapy. For some patients, radiation therapy is given after surgical procedures or chemotherapy to eliminate the remaining cancer cells from the body.

Radiation therapy or radiotherapy is a ray of hope for many cancer patients, while it’s a targeted and painless procedure, it can still upset many patients as they undergo the procedure. This blog is to ease your worries as we get to the bottom of what it’s all about, how it works and why it’s needed.

What is Radiation Therapy or Radiotherapy and how to prepare yourself?

This cutting-edge procedure uses radiation or high-intensity wave beams, delivered with hi-tech machines or radioactive substances. Over the course of treatment, the radiation impairs the DNA of cancer cells, preventing them from spreading to other areas of the body.

One of the best aspects of Radiotherapy is it allows cancer consultants to target specific areas thereby reducing the damage to healthy cells, while chemotherapy affects the entire body. In reality, more than half of cancer patients receive some form of radiotherapy, making it a vital part of cancer care. Radiation therapy typically provided at radiation treatment centres in Coimbatore is of two types:

  • External beam radiation therapy
  • Brachytherapy

1) External beam radiation therapy:

This is one of the most common types of radiotherapy provided at radiotherapy hospitals, wherein high-intensity wave beams generated from a machine are directed at your cancer. This form of therapy consists of three phases: the preparation, treatment and post-therapy phase. The duration of each phase depends on your cancer type, cancer-staging and the type of radiation therapy recommended by your doctor.

The preparation phase takes a few weeks, which is followed by one to ten weeks of radiotherapy sessions. You need to note that you will be generally taking radiotherapy five days a week. You will be in the post-therapy phase for two to five years, wherein your cancer consultant will monitor you for cancer recurrence and side effects of the high-intensity wave beams.

The preparation phase:

The preparation phase initiates with an initial consultation with the radiation oncologist who will decide on your need for radiotherapy. He will conduct a thorough physical exam and go through your medical history and might recommend taking a CT scan, MRI scan, X-ray, mammogram, ultrasound, fluoroscopies, PT scan, etc. as per need. He will then design a personalized treatment plan depending on your requirements and schedule a CT simulation.

The simulation is carried out using a cutting-edge CT simulation machine that allows them to map the exact area of your body for targeted treatment. The consultation with radiation oncologists can be overwhelming for most patients, but it’s vital to remember that doctors provide treatment suggestions based on your needs but it’s you who decides whether you want to proceed with the treatment plan.

So, make use of this opportunity to learn about the several benefits and risks of radiation therapy, its effectiveness, what you can do during the treatment process, the frequency, side effects and the necessary steps you need to take to deal with the side effects.

The simulation phase:

So, once you decide to go ahead with radiotherapy, a second appointment will be made for the simulation process. During this phase, you will not receive radiation treatment but a cutting-edge CT simulation machine will be used to identify and map the treatment site. This is done to plan the angles and shapes of the high-intensity wave beams.

You will be properly positioned depending on the body part which requires radiotherapy so as to minimize damage to healthy cells. In case you feel uncomfortable during any point in the process you can let your radiation therapist know about it, so they can take necessary measures to make you comfortable.

Also, you might receive specific instructions depending on your medical condition from your radiation oncologist to prepare you for the simulation procedure. During the simulation process, a CT scan of your body will be taken, which might take about 45 minutes to one hour.

Skin Markings: The radiation therapist will mark the treatment area using a sterile needle and ink. These visual markers help deliver radiation therapy to the same area.

Immobilization Devices: Sometimes you might require an immobilization device, like a mould or cast to hold your body in the same position during each radiation session. In case the radiotherapy is for your head or neck area, a mask made of mesh is used to keep your head stable during the procedure.

Radiotherapy treatment phase:

Radiotherapy is generally a painless procedure and you will have specific instructions that you need to adhere to before you start the treatment session. The radiation therapist will explain the entire process to make you comfortable and position you, similar to during the simulation phase and will place immobilization devices to keep you stable during the entire session which might take about 30 to 45 minutes.

You need to undergo this process, for five days a week for three to ten weeks. Your progress will be monitored with blood tests, X-rays, and other imaging tests by your radiation oncologist; accordingly, he may modify the intensity, frequency or duration of radiation sessions.

You need to be patient here because it might take some time to see visible results. You might develop several side effects during or after radiation treatments and your doctor will guide you on what to expect and how to deal with them. Irrespective of the side effects, you experience, it’s not advisable to skip treatments as it reduces the treatment efficacy, leading to relapse.

2) Brachytherapy:

This is a form of internal radiation therapy wherein radioactive pellets are positioned inside your body near the cancer lesions, either temporarily or for an extended duration and is generally done under general anaesthesia. It’s of two types Low Dose Rate (LDR) and High Dose Rate (HDR), depending on your medical history and cancer-staging your radiation oncologist might recommend anyone procedure.

Since this process involves placing the radiation source inside your body, you need not undergo the simulation process.

Post-therapy phase:

After radiotherapy, you need to undergo regular health check-ups with your radiation oncologist to monitor your progress. These check-ups are scheduled every three to four months for the first two to three years post-therapy. Your oncologist might recommend taking necessary blood tests or imaging tests like CT scans and MRIs to monitor radiotherapy side effects and also for cancer recurrence.

Undergoing cancer treatments can be tough for most patients but at radiation treatment centres in Coimbatore, we advise and counsel patients preparing them emotionally and physically for the tough journey ahead.