Radiation Therapy

Why is this procedure done?

Radiation therapy is often used to treat cancers as well as some benign (noncancerous) tumors involving the brain. Radiation may be the primary treatment, or it may be used along with other treatments such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Sometimes, it is used to stop the growth of a tumor that was partially removed by surgery. 

How is radiation therapy done?

Radiation therapy uses beams of very high energy (usually x-rays) to damage the DNA of cancer cells in an effort to kill them and keep them from multiplying. Generally, radiation therapy is given five days a week, with each session taking 10 – 30 minutes. Treatment may last for weeks. Most often, a machine called a linear accelerator aims high-energy x-ray beams at the area of the tumor affecting your brain. You must be very still so that the x-ray beams are delivered with precision. To help ensure accuracy, a custom-fitted mask is made for you. It secures your head to the exact same spot on a special treatment table. The machine moves around your head to deliver the radiation beams from various angles. “Whole brain” radiation treatment is now used sparingly.

What are my risks? What are common complications?

You may have temporary or permanent hair loss or thinning in the area where the x-rays are delivered. Sometimes, your brain tumor symptoms may worsen during or following treatment. Some normal brain cells may be injured, but often will recover. Sometimes, problems may occur months to many years after treatment, but these are not common. A second cancer might develop or normal brain tissue near the treated area may become permanently damaged.

What do I need to know before radiation therapy?

The radiation oncology doctor will determine the type of radiation and dose to treat your problem. The radiation therapy team will go through an extensive planning process with you. This may include new CT or MRI scans, creating a mold for your face mask and taking you through a dry run of the procedure to make sure you are comfortable and everything is set for your particular treatment. The team will do checks before each of your treatments to make sure everything is accurate. During treatments, you may hear a buzzing sound, but you will not feel anything. The radiation therapy team will be in another room and will watch you through a window. You will be able to talk with each other through an audio system. You may need to consider having family or friends help with your transportation to the treatment sessions. Be sure to discuss this with your radiation oncologist.

General discharge instructions

Following radiation treatment, you should avoid sun exposure to the area that was treated. You can resume your preradiation activities as you tolerate the treatment. Do not overdo it: You can expect to feel tired or fatigued. If you experience nausea, vomiting, headache or an increase in your tumor symptoms, call your healthcare provider. Most likely, followup scans will be routinely scheduled.

What should I expect while recovering?

Skin irritation resembling a mild sunburn can develop at the site of treatment. There may be thinning or loss of hair. Other side effects occurring around the time of treatment may include nausea, vomiting or headaches. Fatigue is common. It can start during the early weeks of treatment. You may feel tired or even exhausted. Your lack of energy may be accompanied by reduced concentration and motivation. How severe and how long these symptoms last vary from patient to patient.  


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