Can I Change Radiation Facilities for a Week?

Last Modified: August 30, 2008

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

How difficult would it be to temporarily transfer radiation treatment for 1 week? Chemotherapy is completed & a full mastectomy was done. The radiation is the last step to treat any cells remaining in the breast area. The patient has been looking forward to a vacation that was booked a year ago. The treatment would all be within the state of New Jersey.

Answer

Terry Styles, MD, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Each radiation treatment machine is different, and every course of radiation treatment is planned based on the specifications of a specific treatment machine. On rare occasions, such as a necessary and unplanned machine repair, we may consider switching a patient to a different machine within our department for 1 or 2 treatments. We can consider doing this because the differences between all of the machines in our department have already been measured. Thus, we are able to quickly quantify the differences between the two machines and recalculate the treatment for the new machine to ensure that things are fairly consistent. When you are talking about switching from one department to another, however, this is extremely difficult to do, and accounting for variations is extremely challenging. As a result, we very strongly discourage any temporary (or permanent) transfers from one radiation therapy center to another (even if they’re all in the same state) once your treatment is already underway.

The radiation oncologist may feel that it is possible to safely hold radiation treatments for a week and to resume upon return. This may mean inferior cancer control, and may require some extra treatments to compensate for that missed week. . If side effects are really bad (i.e. skin breakdown during breast radiation), such treatment breaks are given, but again, It may impact negatively on outcome, and thus we try to avoid treatment breaks as much as possible.


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