Before radiation therapy, the size and location of the patient's tumor are determined very precisely using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and/or computed tomography scans (CT scans). The correct radiation dose, the number of sessions, the interval between sessions, and the method of application are calculated by a radiation oncologist based on the tumor type, its size, and the sensitivity of the nearby tissues.
The patient's skin is be marked with a semi-permanent ink to help the radiation technologist achieve correct positioning for each treatment. Molds may be built to hold tissues in exactly the right place each time.
Many patients experience skin burn, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting after radiation therapy regardless of the where radiation is applied. After treatment, the skin around the site of the treatment may also become sore. Affected skin should be kept clean and can be treated like sunburn, with skin lotion or vitamin A and D ointment. Patients should avoid perfume and scented skin products and protect affected areas from the sun.
Nausea and vomiting are most likely to occur when the radiation dose is high or if the abdomen or another part of the digestive tract is irradiated. Sometimes nausea and vomiting occur after radiation to other regions, but in these cases the symptoms usually disappear within a few hours after treatment. Nausea and vomiting can be treated with antacids, Compazine, Tigan, or Zofran.
Fatigue frequently starts after the second week of therapy and may continue until about two weeks after the therapy is finished. Patients may need to limit their activities, take naps, and get extra sleep at night.
Patients should see their oncologist (cancer doctor) at least once within the first few weeks after their final radiation treatment. They should also see an oncologist every six to twelve months for the rest of their lives so they can be checked to see if the tumor has reappeared or spread.
Lorraine Lica, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,