What to Expect with Radiation Therapy

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When you come to Baystate Health for radiation therapy, you are in caring and capable hands. Our team puts your needs at the center of everything we do. You’ll receive the individual attention you need before, during and after treatment. Helping you learn what to expect and feel prepared is at the heart of every personalized treatment plan.

Radiation Treatment at Baystate Health: Why Choose Us?

As western Massachusetts’s largest radiation oncology program, Baystate Health offers an exceptional care experience. You benefit from the recommendations of multiple radiation oncologists, all of whom follow leading care practices and have individual expertise in different cancer types. We carefully plan treatments for precise therapies that lower your risk of radiation therapy side effects.

We offer a broad range of services, including innovative treatments that are not widely available and specialized pediatric services. Our attention to safety and quality at every turn helps us maintain our American College of Radiation Oncology accreditation. Find out more about our radiation oncology program.

What to Expect Before Radiation Treatment

Our team starts caring for you long before your first treatment session. Steps that take place before radiation therapy include:

Multidisciplinary care planning

Radiation oncologists work alongside other Baystate Health specialists to determine how radiation treatment fits into your overall care plan. We review your medical history and test results and discuss which treatments are best for you. We then identify which type of radiation therapy you need.

Office visit

During your first visit with a radiation oncologist, we take time to get to know you and perform a physical exam. We then explain your diagnosis and how radiation treatment can help you get better. We discuss the specific type of radiation therapy we’re recommending and how it works. This conversation also covers risks, benefits and potential radiation therapy side effects.

Radiation CT simulation and treatment planning

Before you start treatment, we perform a CT simulation. This scan allows us to recreate your body in the computer while you are in the appropriate treatment position. We use a special CT scanner located in the department.

Radiation CT simulations include:

  • Creating an immobilization device: This custom device holds your body in the proper position throughout treatment. There are many types. For brain tumors, it’s a special mask. For other cancers it’s a beanbag that you lay on that is molded to your body. You lie on the CT couch with the immobilization device in place. We then take a CT scan to pinpoint the tumor location and recreate your anatomy on the computer.
  • Planning treatments: The radiation therapy team reviews the images together. Radiation treatment planning includes identifying the treatment area as well as areas that we want to avoid, calculating the radiation dose and programming the linear accelerator.
  • Marking treatment areas: To ensure radiation consistently hits the right spot, we put tiny tattoos on your skin. The tattoos are permanent but about the size of a freckle. During treatment, we align radiation beams with the tattoos for precise care.

The day before your first treatment, you come in for a test run (simple simulation). You do not receive radiation during this visit. Instead, it is an opportunity to meet our team, learn more about treatment and participate in the planning process.

We will position you on the actual treatment machine (linear accelerator) the same way that you were for the CT simulation. We then take pictures to confirm the position and accuracy before treatment.

What to Expect During and After Radiation Treatment

Baystate Health uses state-of-the-art, fast, accurate machines, so you receive effective care in less time. Treatments take as little as 15 minutes.

Just like during the radiation simulation, you lie in the linear accelerator with the immobilization device in place. Our friendly team talks you through every step, making the experience a little less stressful. If you’re feeling anxious, we give you medicine to help you relax.

To find out more about what to expect, here are answers to frequently asked questions about radiation treatment:

What does radiation therapy feel like?

Radiation therapy does not hurt. Most people experience no sensation during treatment. You may hear clicking or buzzing, but these sounds are normal.

Is radiation therapy safe?

Yes, radiation treatments are safe. In addition to our meticulous planning process, we perform numerous checks before, during and after treatment. This methodical approach ensures you receive the correct dose of radiation in the right spot.

Are there side effects?

Radiation therapy often causes side effects. Receiving precise therapies, like the ones at Baystate Health, lower your risk. We give you preventive treatments, like anti-nausea medications, if there’s a high likelihood of side effects. You also have access to cancer support services, including palliative care doctors who help you get relief from stubborn side effects.

Radiation therapy side effects depend on the location of the treatment area and may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Skin changes, which may include redness, dryness or an itch that won’t quit
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Urinary and bladder changes

How long does it take to recover from radiation treatment?

Most patients feel better within a month of their last treatment. Recovery is longer for head and neck cancer patients. For some people, it can take up to a year to get rid of stubborn side effects.

Find Out More About Our Radiation Therapy Services

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