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Your Treatment: Overview

Cancer and You

Medical advances in cancer care and treatment permit most people to live active, productive lives. Still, cancer can be stressful to you and your family. There will be some days when you feel good, others when you don't.  Throughout your treatment at Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center, we will help you with both your medical and emotional needs. If you are receiving a treatment you don't understand, have difficulty coping with your situation, or have side effects of treatment, please let us know.

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a group of many diseases characterized by an uncontrolled growth and potential spread of abnormal cells.

What is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy is one of the most effective treatments for helping people with cancer. Radiation is the use of high-energy X-rays or electrons to treat malignant tumors and in some patients’ benign conditions. Radiation works by destroying the ability of the tumor's cancerous cells to grow and reproduce. It can slow or stop tumor growth and prevent cancerous cells from spreading into normal body tissues. In many patients, radiation therapy can completely destroy the cancerous tumor.
Sometimes radiation therapy is used in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy (drugs) or hyperthermia (heat). Radiation therapy may shrink a tumor before it is removed or keep any remaining cancerous cells from growing after surgery. 

Consultation: Your First Visit 

When a radiation oncologist at the Radiation Oncology Department receives a request from a doctor or from a patient for a consultation, we will schedule a visit for you.  On your first visit, please bring the following information with you:

  • List of current medications
  • X-rays, CT, MRI or PET scan films from your physician or hospital other than Barnes- Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center
  • Copy of your current medical records
  • Laboratory test reports
  • Pathology report and biopsy slides if appropriate
  • Prior radiation therapy treatment and planning records, simulation films and treatment films

If your records are complete, it will save you time and possibly an extra visit. Your first visit will be one of your longer visits.  You will receive a complete physical exam to assess your current condition after your medical records, X-rays and laboratory tests have been reviewed by the radiation oncologist and resident.  Although you may have been examined by your doctors before your visit with the radiation oncologist, the examination by the radiation oncologist is a critical part of the consultation.  He or she may discover abnormalities not noticed before by other doctors.  Your radiation oncologist may focus on other parts of the exam that specifically addresses the need for radiation therapy.

Additional tests may be necessary and some may be repeated to ensure that you receive the best treatment. Finally, in consultation with your other physicians, a decision will be made about whether radiation therapy is the best form of treatment for you.

To review the medical history form you will need to complete on your first visit, select the following file: Review of Systems

If you are to be treated here, you will be scheduled for simulation and treatment planning.   If another form of treatment is more appropriate for you, this will be discussed with you and your referring physician.

The staff will ask if you have transportation or lodging difficulties.  Our social worker will be able to assist you in these areas.

Questions to Ask During Your Consultation:

  • Why is radiation therapy being recommended?
  • How long does each treatment take?
  • How long will the whole course of radiation treatments take?
  • How soon should treatment start?
  • Will there be any limitations during or after radiation treatment?
  • Where will treatments take place?
  • Should a friend or relative accompany me to treatment or can I come alone?
  • What can I do to best take care of myself during treatment?
  • Will other treatments be given in addition to radiation therapy?

The Informed Consent For Treatment

Before beginning treatment, the radiation oncologist will explain in detail the treatment benefits, possible side effects, and complications.  You will be asked to sign a consent for treatment form. It is your right to have all your questions answered fully by the physician before signing the form. If you are under 18, a parent or guardian must sign the form for you.

Treatment Planning Simulation/Treatment Planning

Your next visit to the Radiation Therapy Department will involves simulation and will take longer than following visits.   Simulation imitates your radiation treatment without high doses of radiation.  Simulation is done so that calculations and planning can be done to determine the best method of delivering radiation.

Beginning Treatment

Once planning is complete, the radiation oncology staff works together to coordinate your starting treatment time and appropriate treatment machine.