Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells. The radiation therapy treatment is given multiple times, causing damage to cancer cells while allowing normal cells to recover over time. Radiation therapy is delivered by a machine called a linear accelerator, which emits a beam of radiation towards the tumor.
Several clinical studies have shown that surgery for soft tissue sarcomas is less radical when the treatment includes radiation therapy to treat the tissues surrounding the tumor. Radiation therapy aims to treat not only the present cancer but also some of the surrounding normal tissues to ensure that no cancer cells are left that could cause a cancer recurrence in this area after treatment. It can be given before surgery (preoperative) or after surgery (postoperative).
The number of treatments prescribed may vary depending on your situation, but generally, it ranges from five to six weeks. Treatments are given five days a week, from Monday to Friday, except on holidays and the day when your treatment machine is in preventive maintenance. The treatment time is usually 15 to 20 minutes.
The treatment takes place in the radiation therapy pavilion of Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital. This is an external treatment, so you do not need to spend the night there. At the first appointment, you will meet a radiation oncologist, who will review your medical records, conduct a physical exam, and explain radiation therapy, your treatment options, and side effects. Your case will also have been discussed in a multidisciplinary team, in the presence of your surgeon and/or oncologist.
Since the treatment takes place over several days, a custom immobilization accessory will be made to ensure your comfort while offering the greatest stability so that you do not move during treatments. This is often a cushion that fits the shape of the treated area. Then you will have a planning scan of the treated area, which will allow your radiation therapy treatments to be planned. Positioning markers will be drawn on the skin and photos will be taken. It is important to reproduce the initial position before each treatment to treat the planned area as accurately as possible.
In order to properly prepare your case by the team, a 6 to 10 day lead time is often necessary before starting your first treatment.
Upon entering the treatment room, you are greeted by a radiation therapy technologist. Using the markers traced on your skin, you are placed in position on the machine table. A verification film will be made before each treatment to ensure that the position is adequate. It is very important not to move from this moment until the end of the treatments.
The technologist does not stay in the room while the machine is running. He is in an adjacent control room where he can observe you and communicate with you if necessary via a microphone. Do not worry, you are under continuous medical surveillance.
During treatment, the radiation oncologist will evaluate you once a week, if necessary, to manage side effects and answer your questions. You can also meet with the radiation oncology nurse at any time if necessary. The side effects vary from person to person and depend on the region of the body being treated and the number of treatments. Early side effects usually appear after the first two weeks and gradually increase. They are usually temporary and disappear in the weeks following the end of treatment. Late or long-term effects will be discussed with your radiation oncologist. The most common early side effects are skin reactions of varying intensities and fatigue. Fatigue is often described as a decrease in energy reserves, as if your battery drains faster. Recommendations for skin care during and after treatments will be provided by the team. It is very important to follow these recommendations.
Be reassured, your healthcare team is there to answer your concerns.