What to Expect During External Radiation Therapy for Oral Cancer
External beam radiation therapy is one type of radiation given for oral cancer.1 Radiation is usually directed at the tumor site.2
Preparing for Your First Treatment
Before you start radiation, you should have a dental exam. Your dentist will treat any oral disease that could result in complications during treatment.3
Before your first appointment to get radiation, you will have an appointment to learn exactly where on your body the radiation beam needs to be directed, in a process called simulation.2 The appointment may take up to two hours.2 Here’s what you can expect to happen during the simulation process.
You’ll lie still on a table while a radiation therapist uses a machine to identify your treatment field, which may also be called your port.2 The field is the exact area on your body where the radiation will be aimed.2 You may have more than one treatment field if you have cancer in more than one place. The therapist will mark your skin with tiny dots of colored permanent ink or tattoos.2 In this way, the therapist can aim the radiation at the same place each time.2
You may also have imaging scans to help doctors know the exact location of your tumor to better determine the treatment area.2
You may also have a face mask or other body molds made. Molds are used to help keep you from moving during the treatments.2
You can get radiation as an outpatient at a hospital or clinic.2 That means you don’t need to stay the night.4 you’ll receive a schedule for radiation therapy. The schedule usually is for 5 days a week for 5 to 7 weeks.2
On the days you receive radiation treatment, you’ll lie on a table while the machine is placed over you.2 Some radiation centers use a face mask to limit your movement while the radiation is being given.2 You may have to wear a hospital gown.2 To protect you, the therapist lines up the machine exactly with your marked treatment fields, located during the earlier simulation.2 The experience lasts up to one hour, with only about one to five minutes spent getting the radiation.2
The radiation therapist will leave the room to turn on the machine, but you will be able to talk to the therapist over an intercom.2 You can’t feel radiation so it will be painless.5 The machine is large and may be noisy.2 You will not be radioactive afterward.5
1 “What You Need to Know about Oral Cancer.” National Cancer Institute, September 8, 2008. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/oral/page8#b Accessed 2010.
2 “Radiation Therapy and You: Support for People with Cancer, External Bean Radiation Therapy.” National Cancer Institute, April 20, 2008. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/radiation-therapy-and-you/page3 Accessed 2010.
3 “Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation.” National Cancer Institute, November 6, 2008. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/oralcomplications/Patient/page5 Accessed 2010.
4 “Radiation Therapy and You: Support for People with Cancer, Questions and Answers About Radiation Therapy.” National Cancer Institute, April 20, 2007. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/radiation-therapy-and-you/page2 Accessed 2010.
5 “Radiation Therapy for Cancer: Questions and Answers.” National Cancer Institute, June 30, 2010. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/radiation Accessed 2010.