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Let’s talk about radiotherapy without the scientific jargon, let’s simplify it and explain what happens through the entire process so patients are fully aware of what to expect before they start treatment.
A person is diagnosed with cancer after clinical investigations such as Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, ultrasound, biopsies and many more. These investigations are done to determine the type of cancer, the size, the grade it falls under and if/how much the cancer has spread.
Upon being informed by an oncologist, the patient’s results from their clinical investigations are taken to a multi-disciplinary meeting where surgeons, radiologists, clinical nurse specialists, medical and clinical oncologists, radiographers and many more healthcare professionals sit and decide the best treatment for the patient.
After this, the recommended treatment plan is discussed with the patient. This will usually be one of the three main treatment options used regularly in cancer treatments: surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. There are other treatments, such as immunotherapy, hormone therapy and many more which are expanded on in my other posts. It is natural for the patient to be quite nervous and anxious about radiotherapy and what it entails whilst still dealing with the shock of their cancer diagnosis. Most patients will be informed of what to expect, but nerves and their current predicament increase the chances of the patient forgetting most of the information.
There are several steps before treatment commences once the patient is informed of their radiotherapy treatment; the patient will first undergo a planning scan (another CT scan), treatment planning and verification.
Patients normally ask, why do they need another scan despite having had several scans previously, why can’t they start the following day after their planning scan and many more questions that I will be addressing in my next post to create a bigger picture to understand what happens in the background before the first day of treatment and how vital each step is.
This is why I decided to start a patient-focused blog series on the different types of patient setup, treatment techniques, and much more of what patients will face during the course of their treatment. I will be explaining the importance of everything there is to know during your radiotherapy treatment, whilst covering the different types of cancer e.g. breast, head and neck, lung, prostate and a few others. I’ll also be addressing the most common questions asked by patients, debunk rumours and popular beliefs, and give useful advice to help those on treatment as well as advice for friends and family.
What is radiotherapy, and what happens during a radiotherapy treatment?
According to the NHS website, radiotherapy can be defined as a form of treatment using radiation to kill cancer cells.
The aim of radiotherapy can either be:
- Curative, which means to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back or to make other treatments more effective
- Symptom control/management which means the treatment is to help reduce the ongoing symptoms that the patient is dealing with but not to cure
Radiotherapy treatment is completely painless, and during the course of treatment, patients will not feel or see anything…very similar to a chest x-ray. However, they will hear the machine making noises as the radiation is being emitted or when the machine is moved into position.
I understand that radiotherapy can seem like a different world initially, everything from treatment position to the words you hear seem absurd and weird; but over the weeks we will delve into this and break it down.
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