Your Radiation Care Team
Clinical and Technical Team
When you are referred for radiation treatment, you will meet with a radiation oncologist to talk about your options. While you only meet him or her, there are a number of other people involved in radiation care – some you will meet, and others 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 unless a problem arises.
- 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 skin care, 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 – technical personnel that are trained to deliver your daily treatment under the direct supervision of your Radiation Oncologist. You will see them every day for treatment.
- Dosimetrists – work with your doctor to develop your personal 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 assures the accuracy of treatment delivery. You may never meet this person.
- Scheduler – it may seem funny to mention the person who makes your appointments, but 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 in your care and what to 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 tatoos) 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 45-90 minutes.
Your set-up visit will be in the treatment room where you receive treatment. The radiation therapists will take x-rays of the areas to be treated to ensure that the treatment to be delivered exactly matches the plan developed by the radiation oncologist. The therapist and physician will also check your positioning and the shielding used to protect healthy tissue.
Once the films and positioning are confirmed, a treatment will be delivered. While it seems like a lot of time to plan and set up, it is critical that the treatment 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 only 5 to 10 minutes; however, you will likely be there for an hour each day.
While daily treatments are typical, there are treatments that 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.