Radiation Therapy: The Patient Experience
What You Can Expect from Radiation Therapy Close to Home in Columbia
Patients quickly feel at home at Central Maryland Radiation Oncology (CMRO). Our community location eases our patients into the daily routine of self–check-in and treatment preparation. Overseen by doctors with the expertise of two downtown academic hospitals, these daily treatment sessions in Columbia can be more convenient for our patients.
Here’s what you can expect from your time with us.
Consultation with a Radiation Oncologist
Your first meeting with a radiation oncologist will take about two hours. During this meeting, your treatment options will be discussed. Your radiation oncologist will answer your questions. He or she will address any concerns you have about your radiation therapy.
If you and your doctors decide that radiation treatment is right for you, your next appointment will be a simulation. Your team will use the simulation to carefully plan your treatment. During this 30 to 60-minute session:
- The targeted treatment area will be precisely located. You will have marks put on your skin that will stay there throughout your treatment. These help the therapist know where to direct the radiation.
- You will be properly positioned for treatment.
- Custom molds or cushions may be fitted to your body. These will help you lie on the treatment table in the same exact position for each radiation session.
Daily Treatments in Columbia
Most radiation therapy plans involve small doses of radiation delivered daily for several weeks. If this will be the case for you, you will have daily treatment sessions, Monday through Friday, at the same time each day. These sessions typically take 30 minutes.
Regular Radiation Oncologist Visits
Over the course of your treatment, you will meet with your radiation oncologist once a week. At these appointments, you will:
- Discuss your progress with treatment.
- Get help in managing any side effects.
- Find solutions to any concerns you might have.
Before your last treatment session, your doctor will discuss your follow-up care. The front desk staff will help you schedule a follow-up appointment with your radiation oncologist. In the meantime, you will get instructions about how to manage any side effects from treatment.
Coping with Radiation Treatment
Patients usually want to know how they will handle radiation treatment. You should discuss this with your radiation oncologist. Radiation treatment side effects are a little different for everyone and every site.
Many patients experience fatigue (feeling very tired) as well as skin changes in the treatment area. Other potential side effects depend on the area of the body being treated, the size of this area, how much radiation is needed, and your overall health.
During treatment, you can take steps that might improve the way you feel:
- Get enough rest.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Stay physically active. Ask your doctor how much exercise your condition and treatment allow.
During their treatment, many patients report changes to their mood, emotions and ability to think or make decisions. These effects are often related to fatigue being tired much of the time. The fatigue you experience from radiation treatment can affect your ability to complete daily chores as well as your work duties.
It is important to take care of yourself during your radiation therapy. Rest when you feel tired. Ask or allow family members or friends to help you with cleaning, cooking and yard work.
Talk with your employer to see if any changes can be made so your job is less demanding. Flexible scheduling might allow you to work during times when you have more energy. Know your rights as an employee. Become familiar with the Family Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and your company’s policies for sick leave, disability, flexible scheduling and work retraining.
Skin Care During Radiation Treatment
About two to three weeks after your first treatment session, it’s normal to notice skin changes in your treatment area. These usually range from mild skin redness to blistering. Changes may be even more noticeable in any skin folds.
These changes are expected and often temporary. However, the treated skin might always feel thicker and appear darker than the rest of your skin.
You may be able to lessen these side effects by caring for your skin:
- Begin skin care for your treatment area on your very first day of radiation therapy.
- Only use over-the-counter lotions, creams, powders or oils on your skin that have been approved by your doctor.
- Wash the treatment area once per day with lukewarm water and a mild soap. Avoid scrubbing your skin.
- Pay special attention to washing skin folds such as under the breast, in the groin or rectal areas, or the folds of the neck.
- If you are receiving radiation to your head, use a baby shampoo. Do not use conditioner, gels or hairspray.
- Dry your skin gently. Pat your skin dry or allow it to airdry. Make sure your skin folds are dry. If you must dry your hair, use the dryer’s cool setting or a hand-held fan.
- Apply skin cream to your treatment area at least once or twice per day. Ask your nurse or radiation oncologist which product is right for you. You may need a prescription cream or may be able to use certain over-the-counter moisturizers, vitamin E oil or pure aloe vera.
Do not use skin cream within 3 hours before your radiation treatment session. You may apply cream immediately after treatment. Also, leave the treatment marks on your skin. They will be removed when you are done with all of your radiation therapy. Wash around the marks, and gently pat them dry. Apply skin cream around the marks. If the marks start coming off or the tape won’t stay in place, let your radiation therapist know so they can be fixed.
You Have the Full Support of Our Team During Your Treatment
We would be honored to have you choose CMRO for your cancer treatment. Our radiation oncologists, nurses, therapists and entire treatment team will be with you each step of the way. We will answer your questions and help you find solutions to any treatment-related side effects. We want to see you successfully complete your radiation therapy and move on to the next phase of your life.