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A picture of health care providers setting a patient up for radiation treatment.Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy (also referred to as radiotherapy) is a form of cancer treatment that directs high energy x-ray beams at tumours. It is used to destroy cancer cells or shrink tumours.

Radiation treatment education video
For more information, watch our radiation treatment education video and learn how you can actively participate in the management of your care. Click here to watch the radiation treatment video now.

How does radiation therapy work?
Radiation therapy is an effective treatment because it makes cancer cells unable to grow and repair themselves. It is a powerful treatment that affects only the part of the body being treated. It can also affect healthy cells that the radiation passes through, causing them to be damaged. This damage to healthy cells is usually temporary, but may cause side effects.

Does radiation treatment use radioactive substances?
The cancer centre uses equipment called linear accelerators to provide radiation therapy treatment. Similar to turning a light switch on and off, linear accelerators only give off radiation when they are turned on and are not radioactive when they are turned off. The cancer centre also offers specialized radiation treatment that uses radioactive substances. This is called high dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy.

How is radiation therapy treatment given?
Radiation therapy is provided in a number of treatment sessions ranging from a single treatment up to 35 or more treatments. The treatment is usually given daily (Monday to Friday) in an appointment that ranges from 15 to 30 minutes in length.

Who receives radiation therapy?
At your consultation appointment, your care team will work with you to determine your best treatment plan. Radiation therapy may be offered as a treatment option.

Where do you receive radiation therapy?
You will receive your treatments in the radiation treatment suite on the third floor (main floor) of the cancer centre.

How long does radiation treatment last?
Most of your 15 to 30 minute appointment is spent positioning you for the radiation treatment. The actual time the radiation machine is on ranges from 30 seconds to a few minutes.

Can my family member come into the radiation treatment suite with me?
Family members may request to view the treatment room and machine during one of the scheduled appointments before your treatment. No one other than the patient and staff are allowed inside the treatment room.

Are there any side effects?
Radiation treatment destroys cancer cells, but can also affect normal healthy cells in the treatment area. Side effects are related to the area being treated. Some people have no, to very few side effects, while others have more. Once you and your care team have determined your treatment plan, the doctor, nurse and radiation therapist will review any potential side effects with you and give you advice on how to manage them.

What questions should I ask my health care team?
Since radiation therapy is specific to each person, you may want to ask your care team the following questions about radiation therapy.

What is brachytherapy?
Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy where a sealed radioactive source is temporarily placed inside the body next to the area requiring treatment. Brachytherapy makes it possible to treat the cancer with a high dose of radiation in a concentrated area in a short period of time. This approach reduces the risk of damage to healthy tissue and increases the likelihood of destroying the tumour.

Currently, endometrium cancers can be treated at the GRRCC with brachytherapy. Future disease sites will include lung, esophagus and cervix. This form of radiation treatment will benefit those patients who currently have to travel to London or Hamilton for their cancer treatment.

Brachytherapy may be used on its own, but is normally combined with external radiation therapy. Most patients receiving radiation treatment will receive external radiation therapy alone.

The $3 million high dose rate brachytherapy service was made possible through contributions from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Cancer Care Ontario as well as community donors through the Grand River Hospital Foundation.
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