Frequently Asked Questions
In addition to medication administered to reduce the side effects of radiation, the radiation oncologist may call on other healthcare professionals to assist in providing optimum support for the patient. These may include a dietician who can give the patient advice on how to maintain weight or how to avoid sensitizing the intestines if radiation is administered to the abdomen.
The side effects depend on the dose of radiation, the length of treatment and the type of organ being treated. During and immediately after radiotherapy, it is mainly the skin and mucous membranes that show signs of irritation (reddening which may be intense), and this must be treated with soothing creams or ointments. In a small number of cases, treatment involving high doses may lead to complications which develop several months after the therapy has been concluded; these can include fibrosis (a loss of elasticity in the tissues of the body) or fragile mucous membranes.
IMRT is an abbreviation that stands for intensity-modulated radiation therapy. This is a technology which, compared with “conventional” radiation, IMRT is an abbreviation that stands for intensity-modulated radiation therapy. This is a technology which, compared with “conventional” radiation, allows the tumour to be targeted much more precisely and considerably reduces the dose of radiation delivered to healthy tissue surrounding the tumour. The aim of this technique is to increase the dose delivered to the tumour in order to increase the likelihood of a cure without causing serious complications in other organs.
The actual time during which radiation is administered is very short – about three to four minutes per session. In fact, it takes longer to position the patient on the couch (and in some cases to position the immobilization devices used to keep the patient in the correct position during treatment) than it does to administer the radiation. All in all, most sessions last around 15 minutes.
The total length of a course of treatment varies from one type of tumour to another. Radiotherapy for tumours which are very responsive to radiation, such as testicular cancer and lymphomas, is given over a period of two to three weeks. Other malignant tumours which are more resistant to radiation, such as epidermoid cancers of the head and neck or prostate adenocarcinoma, require up to seven or eight weeks of treatment. Patients are normally treated once a day from Monday to Friday. In some cases, however, two sessions of radiotherapy may be given each day; this is the case with rapidly growing tumours.