Good Samaritan Hospital Cancer Center uses a team approach to cancer care that combines professional expertise, state-of-the-art technology, and a warm, personal touch.
Consultation: The physician, who is a radiation oncologist, meets with the patient and his or her family to allow both the radiation oncologist and the patient to gain more information. During this meeting, the physician performs a physical examination, reviews the patient's medical history, and thoroughly discusses treatment options based on the patient's cancer. During the consultation, the radiation oncologist may communicate a great deal of information in a short period of time. Many patients find it useful to prepare a list of questions prior to the consultation to assure they are all answered. Ample time is given to the patient to answer any questions that he or she might have. The key to this process is open communication between the doctor, patient and family.
Simulation: After the initial consultation, the next session is usually the treatment planning process, which is called a simulation. Simulation is performed to measure and image the body area designated for treatment. The patient will be placed in the treatment position to obtain a treatment planning CT-or "cat"-scan through the area of the body where the cancer is located. In order to reproduce the exact position of the patient for daily treatment, certain positioning devices may be made. During some CT simulations, the patient may receive contrast barium. Temporary marks placed on the patient are used to center the radiation beams to the exact treatment location. The simulation process can last up to 45 minutes.
Treatment Planning: Several steps occur after simulation and prior to treatment; however, the patient does not need to be present during most of these procedures. During the treatment planning process, the direction and amount of radiation to be delivered is based on the type and position of the cancer in the body. The radiation oncologist works with the radiation physicist and dosimetrist to find the best treatment method possible. With the use of an extremely sophisticated computer, this team designs a treatment plan. This plan tailors the radiation beam to the unique shape of an individual's tumor area, while minimizing exposure to the surrounding normal structures. Special calculations are performed to help assure that the proper radiation dose will be delivered. It may take several days after simulation for treatment planning to be completed. After all treatment planning is complete, radiation therapy treatments are ready to begin.
Radiation Therapy Treatment: The treatment plans and treatment fields that resulted from the simulation and treatment planning sessions are transferred to the treatment room, which contains a linear accelerator. The treatment plan is verified and treatment started only after the radiation oncologist and therapists have rechecked the treatment field and calculations, and are thoroughly satisfied with the setup. A radiation therapist positions the patient on the linear accelerator table using the marks placed on the skin. During radiation treatment, the patient must lie very still on the treatment table while the radiation beam is targeted to the exact area of the cancer. The therapist will not be in the room during the treatment, but they will be monitoring the treatment via a video camera and an audio connection with the treatment room.
Each radiation treatment last approximately 10 to 15 minutes, but the actual radiation is only on for one to three minutes of that time. Since the radiation beam cannot be seen, heard or felt, radiation treatments do not hurt. A person who receives external radiation therapy is not "radioactive." The radiation oncologist will discuss possible side effects of radiation with the patient, but these can vary depending on the area that is being treated.
Support Services: Throughout the radiation treatment process, multidisciplinary care is increasingly important for optimal care for all patients. Good Samaritan Hospital Cancer Center provides a variety of support services including nutritional counseling, social services and pastoral care.