Your Radiation Care Team
Clinical and Technical Team
When referred for radiation treatment, you will meet with a radiation oncologist to discuss your options. While you may only meet the radiation oncologist during the consult, there are several other people involved in your radiation care. Some you will meet, and others will remain behind the scenes.
- Radiation Oncologists – physicians with specialized training in the use of radiation therapy to treat cancer and other diseases; they are in charge of your care. While on treatment, most radiation oncologists will see you once a week. If they are not available, you will likely see one of their colleagues.
- Nurse Practitioners (NP) and Physicians Assistants (PA) – in some centers, NPs and PAs work with the radiation oncologist to provide care.
- Nurses – assist the radiation oncologist in providing clinical care. They will provide information on skincare, nutrition, personal care, symptom management, medications, and home care.
- Social Workers – may lead support groups and are available to meet with you and your family to discuss any personal concerns you may have.
- Registered Dietitians – provide diet and nutrition therapy, offer nutrition suggestions based on your type of cancer, medical history, and personal preferences.
- Radiation Therapists – deliver your daily radiation treatment created by the radiation oncologist. They will accurately position you so that the radiation is precisely administered. You will see them every day for treatment.
- Dosimetrists – work with your doctor to develop your individualized treatment plan. They are responsible for calculating the precise dose and course of treatment with the goal of killing the cancer while limiting side effects. You may never meet this person.
- Physicists – maintain the radiation equipment, monitor the procedures used to deliver your treatment, and assure the accuracy of treatment delivery. You may never meet this person.
- Treatment scheduler – arranges your initial radiation appointments and will assist you in making any changes to your schedule once you start treatment. You will see and talk to them a lot.
Your radiation treatment center may have other people involved in your care as well - the entire team is there to support you.
During your first visit, the Radiation Oncologist will review your medical history and perform a physical exam. The physician will explain the role of radiation therapy for you and what you can expect during treatment. Any questions you or your family have will be answered. This is often a time for the nurse to connect with the patient and their family.
Simulation or “Sim” Visit
Simulation is the process of mapping the treatment area. X-rays will be taken on a CT scanner specifically designed for treatment planning. Your skin will be marked with ink dots (sometimes called tattoos) that will serve as a guide for your radiation treatments. Devices used to help you lie still and comfortably on the table will be made at this time. Occasionally, additional tests may be necessary to precisely localize the treatment site. This appointment typically runs between 45-60 minutes.
Set-Up Visit or "Dry Run"
Your set-up visit usually takes place in the treatment room where you receive treatment. The radiation therapists will take x-rays of the treatment areas to ensure that you are positioned correctly, making any changes necessary. They will also check that the treatment to be delivered exactly matches the plan developed by the radiation oncologist. Your first treatment will take place on the same day or the following day.
While it seems like a lot of time to plan and set up, the treatment must be given as it was planned to avoid unnecessary toxicity to healthy tissue and to get the correct amount of radiation to the treatment area.
Once the initial set-up is completed, daily treatments normally follow. Treatments are usually given once a day, Monday through Friday, for a number of weeks. Each treatment generally takes 15 to 30 minutes allowing time to set up equipment and get you in the correct position. However, you will likely be there for an hour each day.
While daily treatments are typical, some treatments are done using another schedule. These include treatment twice a day or a short course of radiation, which could be a single treatment or several treatments. This article describes external beam radiation therapy. To learn about other types of radiation, visit OncoLink.