For Patients & Families

Radiation Oncology

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Our expertise.

WMCC is Southwest Michigan’s most experienced cancer treatment center, providing thousands of patients with compassionate, lifesaving therapies for more than 26 years. As the region’s leader in cancer care, our radiation oncology program is the centerpiece. If your treatment plan includes radiation therapy, you can rest assured that it will be given safely and effectively by highly-trained, board-certified providers and team members.

What Is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy is one of the most common treatments for cancer—utilized in more than half of all cases. Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to shrink tumors safely and damage cancer cells. Radiation oncologists use this important therapy as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with other therapies, including surgery and chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy is used at various stages of cancer treatment and for different goals of care. In many cases, radiation therapy is essential to controlling or eliminating a patient’s disease. Sometimes, radiation therapy can be used to shrink a tumor before surgery or chemotherapy. It can also be used afterward to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Other times, radiation therapy is used to alleviate symptoms like pain, which can occur in advanced, late-stage cancer. Patients with certain non-cancerous conditions like meningiomas or keloids may also benefit from radiation therapy.

WMCC has made significant investments in people and technology. Our radiation oncologists are highly skilled in their field, receiving specialized training at academic medical centers ranked among the most prestigious in the nation. We have substantial investments in state-of-the-art radiation technology to bring our patients the most advanced treatment. Our specialists are committed to providing novel therapies that have proven effective and safe in treating cancer patients.

Meet Our Team

The WMCC Division of Radiation Oncology is composed of skilled and experienced providers to deliver the most comprehensive care for you or your loved one. Each team member is dedicated to providing you with safe, effective, and compassionate care. Your treatment begins with the radiation oncologists, the physicians who will oversee your radiation therapy treatment course.

These physicians work with other radiation oncology team members to create an optimal treatment plan and ensure each treatment is delivered appropriately.

Your radiation oncologist will follow your progress, manage any treatment-related side effects, and adjust the treatment plan as necessary.

Before, during, or after your treatment, you may also see an advanced practice provider for some visits. For patients under the care of additional cancer physicians, such as medical oncologists and surgeons, your radiation oncologist will work collaboratively with them during all phases of your treatment journey.

Radiation Oncology Team Members

The prospect of radiation therapy may make you anxious. We understand that you may be worried about side effects and safety concerns. At WMCC, we want to assure you that your treatment plan will be customized just for you and carried out by a dedicated team of medical professionals. 

Some you will meet in person, while others will be working behind the scenes to plan your care. The physicians work with other radiation oncology team members to create an optimal treatment plan and ensure each treatment is delivered appropriately.

  • Radiation Therapists
  • Medical Physicists
  • Dosimetrists
  • Nurse Liaisons
  • Social Workers
  • Registered Dietitians

Radiation Therapists work with radiation oncologists to deliver your daily radiation treatments under the physician's prescription and supervision. They maintain daily records and regularly examine the treatment machines to make sure they are working properly.

Medical Physicists work directly with the radiation oncologist during treatment planning and delivery. They oversee the work of the dosimetrist and help ensure that complex treatments are accurately planned and delivered for each patient. They also make sure the equipment works properly by taking precise measurements of the radiation beam and performing other safety tests on a regular basis.

Dosimetrists carefully create a radiation therapy treatment plan utilizing the latest treatment planning software. They work to optimize a treatment plan to best treat a patient’s tumor while minimizing exposure to the surrounding organs at risk. Since treatment plans are often very complex, dosimetrists work with the radiation oncologist and the medical physicist to create the most optimal, customized treatment plan for your individual case.

Radiation Oncology Nurse Liaisons and Medical Assistants work together with radiation oncologists and radiation therapists to care for you during your treatments. Your oncology nurse liaison will explain the possible side effects of treatment and provide information and resources to help you best manage them. He or she will monitor you throughout your treatment course and help you and your family optimize and cope with changes you may experience.

Social Workers are available to provide a variety of supportive services to you and your family. They can provide brief counseling to help you and your family cope with your diagnosis of cancer and with your treatment. They can also help connect you with supportive resources during and after your treatment course.

Registered Dietitians work with patients to help them maintain adequate nutrition during their treatment course. They can help modify your meal plan if side effects from treatment impact appetite, cause nausea, or otherwise alter how you take in nutrition. They can also help determine what you can eat and provide recipes, menu suggestions, and information on ready-to-use nutritional supplements.

  • Radiation Therapists
  • Medical Physicists
  • Dosimetrists
  • Nurse Liaisons
  • Social Workers
  • Registered Dietitians

Radiation Therapists work with radiation oncologists to deliver your daily radiation treatments under the physician's prescription and supervision. They maintain daily records and regularly examine the treatment machines to make sure they are working properly.

Medical Physicists work directly with the radiation oncologist during treatment planning and delivery. They oversee the work of the dosimetrist and help ensure that complex treatments are accurately planned and delivered for each patient. They also make sure the equipment works properly by taking precise measurements of the radiation beam and performing other safety tests on a regular basis.

Dosimetrists carefully create a radiation therapy treatment plan utilizing the latest treatment planning software. They work to optimize a treatment plan to best treat a patient’s tumor while minimizing exposure to the surrounding organs at risk. Since treatment plans are often very complex, dosimetrists work with the radiation oncologist and the medical physicist to create the most optimal, customized treatment plan for your individual case.

Radiation Oncology Nurse Liaisons and Medical Assistants work together with radiation oncologists and radiation therapists to care for you during your treatments. Your oncology nurse liaison will explain the possible side effects of treatment and provide information and resources to help you best manage them. He or she will monitor you throughout your treatment course and help you and your family optimize and cope with changes you may experience.

Social Workers are available to provide a variety of supportive services to you and your family. They can provide brief counseling to help you and your family cope with your diagnosis of cancer and with your treatment. They can also help connect you with supportive resources during and after your treatment course.

Registered Dietitians work with patients to help them maintain adequate nutrition during their treatment course. They can help modify your meal plan if side effects from treatment impact appetite, cause nausea, or otherwise alter how you take in nutrition. They can also help determine what you can eat and provide recipes, menu suggestions, and information on ready-to-use nutritional supplements.

Your First Visit

What To Expect

The first step is to meet with a WMCC radiation oncologist and/or advanced practice provider to discuss your diagnosis and determine if radiation therapy is the right form of treatment for you. If the doctor decides to move forward, you will learn about the number of treatments you will need based on your disease type and stage. In some cases, your doctor may decide that radiation therapy is best suited for use at a later stage, so you may receive other cancer treatments first.

  • Consultation
  • Radiation Simulation
  • Treatment Plan
  • Treatment Delivery

The first step is to meet with a WMCC radiation oncologist to discuss your diagnosis and determine if radiation therapy is the right form of treatment for you. If the doctor decides to move forward, you will learn about the number of treatments you will need based on your disease type and stage. In some cases, your doctor may decide that radiation therapy is best suited for use at a later stage, so you may receive other cancer treatments first.

Preparation for radiation therapy treatment involves a session called a simulation. It typically includes the following steps:

  1. You will lie on the same type of solid table for your simulation as you will for your treatments.
  2. Lying still in the proper position is very important for treatment success. Your healthcare team may use cushions and immobilization devices to position you at the best angle for treatment.
  3. You will then undergo CT scans (X-rays) to determine where the radiation will be focused. You will not receive a report from these scans.
  4. After the physician reviews and approves your scan, your treatment team may mark the area with a very small permanent tattoo. This tattoo is usually the size of a freckle. In certain cases, a permanent tattoo is not needed.
  5. You have completed your part of the preparation. The clinical team will now begin working with the physician during the next step in the preparation process.

Radiation therapy requires careful planning to target the tumor with the least amount of impact on surrounding tissues. CT scanners simulate treatments by testing various beam fields and immobilization devices used to keep the patient from moving during treatment. Data from the simulation help calculate the appropriate dose before treatment begins.

Radiation therapy treatment sessions are typically given daily for 1 to 9 weeks. The total number of treatments depends on the size and type of cancer. Each session usually takes about 10 to 30 minutes. Often, the individual is given each weekend off from therapy, which helps with the restoration of normal cells. At each session, you will lie on a treatment table and team members will position you with the same immobilization devices used at the time of the initial simulation. Protective covering or shields may also be positioned on or around you to protect other body parts from unnecessary radiation.

Radiation therapy involves using a linear accelerator machine, which delivers radiation to a designated area under the direction of a physician. The machine may move around the table in order to deliver the radiation at the specifically planned angles. The machine will make a buzzing sound ​as it delivers the radiation. You should feel no pain during treatments. You will be able to communicate with your team through the room’s intercom, if necessary. Your doctor will be in the clinic and available to participate in the treatment as needed.

Our Technology & Therapies

There are two main types of radiation therapy, external beam and internal (i.e., brachytherapy). The type of radiation therapy that you may have depends on many factors, including:

  • Treatment Machines
  • Treatment modalities
  • Machine Status
Varian TrueBeam® and Varian Trilogy™ WMCC uses advanced radiation treatment technology to treat a broad range of cancers. Radiation is produced by a treatment machine called a linear accelerator. At WMCC, patients are treated on one of two linear accelerators, the Varian TrueBeam® or the Varian Trilogy™. Each radiation treatment machine can safely deliver a precise dose quickly while causing minimal damage to surrounding normal cells and tissue. A single dose of radiation is called a fraction. Most radiation treatments require several fractions. A typical radiation treatment plan has five fractions a week for 1 to 9 weeks.
  • Three-Dimensional Conformal Radiation Therapy (3D-CRT)
    Static treatment fields are designed to conform to the tumor while blocking nearby organs that could be sensitive to radiation. Treatment beams are designed specifically for each patient and a number of tools will be used for each case depending on tumor depth, size, shape, and proximity to adjacent organs.
  • Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) & Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapies (SBRT)
    A high dose of radiation is concentrated to smaller tumors while giving low levels of radiation dose to surrounding healthy tissues. The full stereotactic treatment course will typically be delivered in five or fewer treatment sessions.
  • Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)
    Used to treat irregular tumor volumes where the radiation dose needs to be carved around adjacent healthy tissues. Treatment plans are developed by the planning team with the use of sophisticated computer software to deliver sufficient radiation doses to the tumor while sparing healthy organs.
  • Image-Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT)
    Uses advanced imaging technology to verify the tumor position, as well as adjacent healthy organs, before each treatment. The imaging is used to align and adjust each treatment to ensure precise delivery.
  • Surface Monitoring with AlignRT®
    Three dimensional cameras are used to track the patient’s position and compare it to the ideal treatment position. The system can be used to automatically halt the treatment session if the patient moves out of the ideal treatment position.
  • Brachytherapy
    Done by placing a radioactive source inside the patient’s body either inside or immediately adjacent to the tumor. This technique allows the physician to treat with high doses of radiation to small areas in a shorter time frame.

Click this link to check the treatment machine status.

FAQs

Finding out you need radiation therapy can be a stressful experience. Knowing your options and becoming an informed patient can help you gain a sense of control over your treatment. We believe an important part of compassionate care is helping patients understand the treatments they are prescribed.

Many patients have questions about the side effects of radiation therapy. Side effects depend on the area being treated and typically appear by the second or third week of treatment.

Side effects may last for several weeks after treatment is completed. Some common side effects include fatigue, skin irritation of the treatment site, and hair loss within the treatment site.

Here we have compiled a list of other common questions you might have about radiation therapy. We encourage you to discuss any additional questions that arise with your healthcare team. 

Hair loss is a common side effect of radiation therapy but only occurs within the area being treated.

Skin irritation is a common radiation side effect. However, the severity can vary from person to person and depends on the area being treated.

Moisturizing can help minimize skin changes. Your physician will recommend which lotions, creams, or ointments to use. Patients should also protect treated areas from the sun and not wear tight fitting clothes on the treatment area to prevent worsening skin reactions. Maintaining adequate hydration can also be beneficial throughout treatment.

Once the daily treatment has been completed, the patient is not radioactive and may safely be in contact with pregnant women and children.

Any severe changes to breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, or pain should be promptly evaluated in the hospital emergency room. If unsure how to manage side effects, there are nurses available via phone to contact during business hours and an on-call physician available via phone after hours.

There is a very small risk of developing a second cancer where radiation is administered. However, the benefits far outweigh the small risk when your physician recommends radiation therapy.

Lifestyle changes such as eating healthier foods, maintaining a safe and effective exercise regimen, stopping tobacco use, limiting alcohol consumption, and positively managing stress can help reduce chances of cancer recurrence. These changes can also help prevent and manage other chronic health issues.

Please consult your physician regarding vitamin or supplement usage.

There are limits to the amount of radiation that each part of the body can safely receive. Your physician will assess the medical history and physical exam and a radiation plan will be made specifically for each patient to ensure the amount of radiation given is safely below that threshold.

Available Clinical Trials

West Michigan Cancer Center Radiation & Surgical Specialties has an active clinical research program.  WMCC is a member of the Cancer Research Consortium of West Michigan, a division of the National Cancer Institute’s Clinical Oncology Research Program. Your radiation oncologist can provide guidance and connect you with one of our research protocol nurses to discuss clinical trials that may help address your specific type of cancer.

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