Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells. Many patients with breast cancer will require radiation as part of their treatment. The radiation oncologists at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System are specialists in the care of breast cancer. We work closely with our colleagues in other disciplines to ensure that patients get the very best possible treatment, individuated for each particular case.
We know that the prospect of receiving radiation therapy can be intimidating. Though the workings behind our treatments are sophisticated, our physicians, nurses, and therapists work hard to deliver up-to-the-minute care, while making the experience as understandable and as easy as possible for our patients.
Radiation therapy usually involves the following steps:
Consultation: You'll meet with a radiation oncologist for a discussion of your cancer, and together you'll decide whether or not radiation would be appropriate in your case. If we decide to proceed with treatment, we'll describe exactly what the treatment will involve.
Simulation: This is a mapping procedure that will allow your physicians and the physicists they work with to plan out how exactly your radiation treatment will be delivered. The simulation often consists of a special type of CT scan (CAT scan). Sometimes, intravenous contrast is used. Special positioning devices are often used to help you lie in a particular way. Our goal is to make this procedure as comfortable for you as possible.
Radiation planning: After the simulation, your physicians and physicists will work together to devise the best possible radiation plan. Their aim is to deliver the radiation exactly where it's needed, and to avoid the areas where it could cause the most side effects.
Radiation delivery: Radiation treatments are often given daily, Monday through Friday, for a number of weeks. The treatments are usually painless. Patients generally tell us that they don't feel a thing. During your treatment course you will meet regularly with your physicians to address any side effects you're experiencing, and to answer any questions you might have.
The University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System has advanced technologies to use with patients receiving radiation. These include stereotactic radiosurgery, stereotactic body radiotherapy, brachytherapy, and image guided radiotherapy. Your radiation oncologist can describe these treatments to you and help you decide when they might be useful to you.