Radiation Treatment: Who’s on your care team?

It’s not surprising that a lot goes on behind the scenes of radiation therapy, and it’s definitely not surprising to you that there are many different people that have a hand in your care. With all the people that you see during your visits, there are just as many behind the scenes folks that have a role in what will happen from consult to continued follow-ups.

PLANNING TEAM

Dosimetrists

Dosimetrists are some of the first people to look at your case after your pathologist and doctor. These are the people that are eyeballs deep in graphs, formulas, and scans making sure that your treatment is planned correctly so that your treatment will target the most effective areas. Dosimetrists carefully calculate the dose of radiation you will receive and the daily machine settings/parameters.

Once they finish their work on your case, they pass the plan back to your radiation oncologist for their approval, and then your plan is ready to be put into action.

Radiation Physicists

It may sound strange for a physicist to be a part of your radiation oncology team, but they serve a very important role in the precision and accuracy of your treatment. Our physicists keep our radiation treatment machines properly calibrated each and every day by taking precise measurements of the radiation equipment output. They also ensure that the machines are delivering the precise dose of radiation during each and every treatment which is particularly important for patients that undergo daily radiation treatment.

TREATMENT TEAM

Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs)

CMAs are not a part of every care team but larger facilities tend to have someone in this role to help with patient flow. CMAs are the people on your care team that may perform duties similar to a nurse. They might take your vitals, ask you a variety of questions regarding your current and recent status, and get your ready to see the doctor.

Nurses

Your radiation therapy nurse is a registered nurse whose main job is to implement the plan of care your radiation oncologist has prescribed for you. Your nurse will be the one to administer medications and monitor any possible side effects or adverse reactions that you may experience during or after radiation treatment.

Radiation Therapists

You will see your radiation therapist every single day of your treatment. Your therapist will walk you to your treatment machine, get you setup in place, and make sure you are comfortable before leaving the room. But where are they going?

While you are on the treatment table, your radiation therapists are stationed nearby so they can monitor you and operate the machines. In many cases, they are taking quick images of your placement to make sure you are in the correct position so that the radiation will hit the correct spot, and they are also controlling the radiation. If anything were to happen mid-treatment, they can/will stop the machine and get to you as quickly as they can to make sure everything is ok. Once your treatment is complete, they will help you off the table and escort you back to the dressing/waiting areas.

In my experience, these people are angels (but don’t tell anyone else I said that.) My therapist talked to me, checked on me, and went above and beyond what they had to do to make sure I had a decent experience in the midst of a mess.

Radiation Oncologists (& Residents)

Radiation Oncologists are crucial to your care. They are the medical minds that oversee every bit of your radiation oncology care. They review your pathology, pinpoint the exact location(s) of the tumor or lesions on various scans, plan your dose of radiation and how many treatments you will have, manage your symptoms throughout your treatment, and do their best to ensure you get the best treatment and care you can, whether that’s curative or palliative treatment.

Your Radiation Oncologist should be skilled and very knowledgeable about the typical side effects, prognosis, standards of care, and research opportunities that might be available. They are the ones that you should direct your questions to at your visit, but it is important to understand that there are some questions that your doctor simply isn’t able to answer.

At many facilities, residents are a part of the radiation oncology team as well. Residents may visit your room first and ask you questions during an exam or they may enter the exam room with your regular physician. Throughout their residency, residents are often times observing and absorbing as much information about each patient and the appropriate care as they can as they move closer to graduation. You also might notice that depending how much time passes between your visits, there may be a different resident present for your visit than before. Residents rotate doctors so that they have a wide variety of experience by the time they finish their residency.

THE REST OF THE TEAM

Research Study Coordinators

Depending on whether or not your doctor recommends that you participate in a clinical trial, you may or may not interact with a study coordinator. These folks are the experts in the department on the clinical studies open in that practice, and will make sure each aspect of the study elements outside of standard of care treatment is taken care of. These will also be the people most likley to explain the study to you and call and check on you for follow-ups. These follow-ups may be in person at your regular visits or they may be a telephone call to see how you’re doing.

Social Services

Lastly, social workers are there specifically for you! Their purpose is to make sure you are taken care of and provide you with the tools to deal with emotional burdens you may experience and/or help with decision making strategies for your care. Social workers also typically have the ability to assist with more concrete needs including housing, transportation, finances, hopsice or home care, and other supportive resources.