WHAT IS RADIOTHERAPY?
Radiation is a special type of energy carried by waves or particles. It can be produced by special devices or released by radioactive substances.
Special equipment is required to direct the radiation towards the targeted organ. The use of high doses of radiation energy for therapeutic purposes is referred to as “radiotherapy”.
Radiation therapy is a painless procedure.
High doses of radiation can kill cells or prevent them from multiplying. Normal cells can also be affected by radiotherapy. However, because cancerous cells divide and multiply much faster than normal cells, radiotherapy is more effective on cancer cells than on normal cells. Also, normal cells can recover and regenerate much more easily and faster than cancer cells.
At the planning stage, doctors make the necessary arrangements to expose diseased tissues to the maximum amount of radiation and normal tissues to the minimum amount.
When Is Radiotherapy Needed?
Radiotherapy is used to treat many types of cancer in almost every part of the body. In more than half of cancer patients, radiation therapy is used in addition to treatments such as surgery and drug therapy.
For some types of cancer, radiotherapy is the only treatment method. In some cases, radiotherapy is administered to reduce the size of the tumor before surgery. With some tumors it is used to eradicate cancer cells that may have remained untouched after surgery. There are also cases where radiotherapy is applied during surgery. Some cancer types may require radiotherapy and chemotherapy to be applied directly without surgery.
The Preparation Session
A preparation session with computer-assisted tomography takes place before the start of treatment.
The aim is to personalize the treatment and to determine the radiation technique to be used depending on the type and stage of the cancer.
During radiotherapy, firstly, the patient’s position inside the device is determined before computed tomography scanning takes place.
By making a treatment plan with computed tomography, tumors or the most risky areas for the spread of tumors are identified, as well as normal tissues that need to be protected.
In the meantime, through markings on the skin, the objective from one radiotherapy session to another is giving the patient equal amounts of radiation under identical conditions.
It is important to immobilize the environment to ensure that the dose prescribed for the radiotherapy sessions is administered in the most accurate way. The rays must get to the right spots in the body, the position in which the patient lies must not change from one session to the next, and patient comfort must be maintained. Certain instruments are used for this procedure known as “immobilization”. Patients are notified of the date and treatment hours once the preparation session is over.
Allowing a few days between the preparation session and the first treatment is necessary for the radiotherapy team to make preparations for treatment and deliver the best results under the supervision of the radiation oncologist.
Radiotherapy is administered over a series of sessions.
The total number of sessions is determined individually for each patient. When determining the number of sessions, the total dose and the number of sessions during which this dose is to be administered are considered depending on the type of cancer, its stage, the purpose of irradiation, and the patient’s general state of health.
Most treatment regimens take place once a day, except in special cases, and are usually administered five days a week, excluding weekends. Treatment is paused for two days, usually on weekends, to help healthy cells recover.
What Are the Sessions Like?
A treatment session may take between 5–45 minutes, depending on the technique used.
Our radiation oncology technician will assist you in each session. The person responsible for applying the treatment planned on a computer by a doctor and physics engineer is the radiotherapy technologist.
The radiotherapy technologist helps to place the patient on the treatment table, before leaving the room to operate the machine.
During the session, they are able to communicate with you using a control screen and intercom. If the patient needs anything, they will stop the device and cater to their needs.
Things to Bear in Mind During the Treatment Process
It is important that you remain in the determined position, without moving, to help maximize the benefits of the treatment.
During the irradiation process, you will not see any rays and you will not feel anything. You will only hear the device working.
The temperature is deliberately kept low in the treatment rooms to prevent devices from overheating. Therefore, you may feel cold in the treatment room.
To keep our daily schedule running, you will be asked to arrive on time for your appointments and we will try to do everything necessary to start your treatment on time. However, although infrequent, sometimes you may inevitably have to wait due to emergency cases or problems caused by the device.
If you are unable to receive your treatment for any reason on your scheduled day, a new appointment will be made for you. This means that no session is ever cancelled. What is important is the sum of the sessions, which is the radiation dose calculated and required for the entire treatment, and not whether they take place on the scheduled days.
For your comfort, you are recommended to wear clothes you can easily take on and off before coming to the treatment session.
You do not need to have an empty stomach. Keep taking the medications you have been taking throughout the radiotherapy sessions.
Do not use the creams prescribed to protect your skin within the two hours before and after treatment.
You can take a bath between radiotherapy sessions. If you keep your skin clean, the likelihood of side effects on the skin is reduced.
Side effects usually start in the days that follow, rather than the early days, as the dose increases. They may not always materialize and the nature of the side effects may vary from person to person.
Some of these side effects are of a more general nature, like weariness and fatigue.
Side effects specifically affecting the treated area often occur after the second or third week of treatment.
During your first meeting with the radiation oncologist you will be given information about the possible side effects.
During treatment, doctors and nurses will help to make the process as comfortable for you as possible. Do not hesitate to share your thoughts with them.