The first step in treatment is a consultation with the radiation oncologist who will perform a physical exam and review all patient information regarding previous treatments and exam results in order to formulate the most beneficial treatment plan or decide whether radiation is an appropriate treatment option. If the patient and physician decide that radiation therapy is appropriate, a CT scan will be taken to map the exact location, size and shape of the tumor so that the radiation treatments can be delivered precisely, minimizing side effects caused by radiation’s effect on normal tissues. Other tests such as positron emission tomography (PET scan) may also be conducted prior to treatment.
Depending on the location of the tumor, some patients require a specially molded face mask to hold their head still and in the correct position for treatment. Other patients may require a leg or body mold to prevent movement and ensure proper positioning. Skin marks made with permanent ink may be used to help the radiation therapist align the machine for treatment.
Patients should follow any instructions provided prior to treatment and adjust daily schedules to accommodate the treatment plan. Patients should also talk with the radiation oncologist and radiation therapy nurse to discuss possible side effects and ways to prepare for managing any symptoms that may arise. During treatment, the radiation oncologist will track progress to ensure that the treatment is having a positive effect on the tumor with minimal effect to other tissues.
Once treatment is completed, patients will have a schedule of follow-up visits with the radiation oncologist to see if the treatment was successful and to make sure there are no late effects from the treatment or recurrence of cancer.