To better assist our patients, we’ve written a step-by-step guideline on what to expect before, during, and after radiation treatment. This is a general guide that can help patients to better understand the process, and to formulate questions for the radiation oncologist during a consultation. These steps are specific to patient protocol at the Austin Center for Radiation Oncology.
Step 1: The Consultation with the Radiation Oncologist
During the initial consultation your radiation oncologist (Dr. Richard Garza) will discuss treatment options based on your specific case. We encourage you to bring family members or significant others with you, as they may be able to help you during the process and have their own questions answered. The medical assistant will accompany you to a room to take your vital signs and record your history. The radiation oncologist will meet with you to discuss radiation therapy in detail, the reasons for recommending the treatment and the potential risks and side effects of such treatment. Ample time will be provided so that you have a full understanding of the treatment process, and that all of your questions and concernsregarding your treatment options are addressed in full. Once you feel that you have a full understanding of the proposed treatment, risks, and side effects, you will be asked to sign a consent form. After you have signed the consent, your doctor will be available to answer new questions or provide additional information. You can withdraw your consent at any time for any reason.
Step 2: The CT Simulation
Once you decide to proceed with radiation therapy, we will schedule a treatment planning session called a CT simulation, which is done here at the radiation center. If there are any special instructions prior to the scan we will give them to you.
The radiation oncologist uses this CT scan for the planning stage of your treatment and will determine how many treatments you need, what area is to be treated, which beam arrangements and dose distribution to use for your treatment. Please allow one hour for this appointment.
Once you check in on your appointment day, the CT technician will take you to the CT room to set you up in the position you will be in for your treatments. A mold will be made around the area we are to treat using a special device called a vac-lok bag. The vac-lok is used daily for your treatment to ensure exact positioning.
Next, the CT technician will scan you and mark your body with three tiny tattoos. The tattoos are located on each hip and on your anterior pelvis. These tattoos look like a freckle and are the size of a dot. These tattoos are necessary for the radiation therapist to precisely position you each day. Once the tattooing is complete, photos are taken to document your treatment position.
When your simulation scan is complete, we will schedule a time and date for your treatments to begin. Your treatments will begin approximately one week from the time of your CT simulation. The radiation therapist will go over any special instructions with you and discuss what to expect when you come in for your treatments.
Step 3: The Planning Process
After simulation, all details from the CT simulation procedure are sent over to the medical physicist / dosimetrist to determine the best treatment plan for you. The medical physicist / dosimetrist performs highly technical calculations to measure the precision of your treatment plans, and calculate the best angles to treat your tumor, or tumor site. As part of the treatment planning, your medical team conducts extensive quality assurance testing with the treatment equipment to ensure that the planned treatment can be accurately carried out for each individual. The radiation oncologist reviews and approves all treatment plans to ensure your treatment is ready to begin.
Step 4: Treatment Day
Upon arrival, you will check in with the receptionist at the front desk and one of the radiation therapists will guide you through what to expect during your treatment on the table. You may be asked to change into a pair of scrub pants or a gown each day and you will have a closet to secure your belongings during treatment. The therapist will bring you into the treatment room to set you up in the same position that was designed when you had your CT simulation scan. The customized body mold and skin marks will help us get you into position. We ask that you hold very still, breath normally, and relax. You will see green lasers coming out of the wall, these cross over your skin marks to help us ensure you are aligned properly. Once we have you set up on the reference skin marks, we will step out of the room to our console area where we control the radiation machine and watch and listen to you at all times on a closed intercom system and monitor. The entire treatment will last 15 – 30 minutes. You will not feel anything during your radiation treatments. You will just hear the machine make some buzzing noises.
Step 5: Weekly “On Treatment” Visits
You will have a weekly visit with your Radiation Oncologist to review any side effects you may have while on radiation. This is a great opportunity for you to bring family members so that we may answer their questions in your presence. If you have questions during the week, be sure to write them down so that you can have them answered by your doctor. If you have urgent questions during the week, feel free to call the nurse.
We will monitor your progress closely. There are no blood test, imaging or biopsies to do while you are getting treatment to monitor the status of your cancer. Weeks after your radiation treatment is complete, we will order the appropriate test for your cancer.
Step 5: Follow Up Visits
After completion of your radiation, you will have periodic visits in several months’ intervals with your Radiation Oncologist to review any side effects you may have.