During your treatment, you will meet many healthcare professionals who care for you. In addition to the people you meet, there are also members of your healthcare team who work behind the scenes in planning and delivering your care. Your radiation oncology team includes:
Radiation oncologists are the doctors who oversee your radiation therapy treatments. These physicians work with the other members of the radiation therapy team to develop your treatment plan and ensure that each treatment is given accurately. Your radiation oncologist will also monitor your progress and adjust the treatment as necessary to make sure the radiation is hitting its target while minimizing side effects. Before, during and after your radiation therapy treatments, your radiation oncologists work closely with other cancer doctors, such as medical oncologists and surgeons, to maximize the radiation's effectiveness.
Radiation oncologists have completed at least four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of general medical training and four years of residency or specialty training in radiation oncology. They have extensive training in cancer medicine and the safe use of radiation to treat disease. If they pass a special examination, they are certified by the American Board of Radiology. You should ask if your doctor is board certified.
Radiation oncology nurses work collaboratively with radiation oncologists and radiation therapists to care for you and your family at the time of consultation, while you are receiving treatment and during your follow-up care. They will explain the possible side effects you may experience and describe how you can manage them. They will assess how you are doing throughout treatment and will help you cope with the changes you may experience. They will also provide support and counseling to you and your family.
Radiation oncology nurses are licensed registered nurses or licensed practical nurses. Many registered nurses in radiation therapy have additional accreditation in the specialty of oncology nursing. Advanced practice nurses, including clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners, have completed a master's degree program.
Radiation therapists work with radiation oncologists to administer the daily radiation treatment according to the doctor's prescription and supervision. They maintain daily records and regularly check the treatment machines to make sure they are working properly. Radiation therapists go through a two-to-four-year educational program following high school or college. They take a special examination and may be certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. In addition, many states require radiation therapists to be licensed.
Dosimetrists carefully calculate the dose of radiation to make sure the tumor gets enough radiation. Using computers, they develop a number of treatment plans that can best destroy the tumor while sparing normal tissue. Since treatment plans are often very complex, dosimetrists work with the radiation oncologist and the medical physicist to choose the treatment plan that is right for you. Many dosimetrists start as radiation therapists and then, with very intensive training, become dosimetrists. Others are graduates of one-to-two-year dosimetry programs. They are certified by the Medical Dosimetrist Certification Board.
Qualified 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 properly tailored for each patient. Medical physicists are responsible for developing and directing quality control programs for equipment and procedures. Their responsibilities also include making sure the equipment works properly by taking precise measurements of the radiation beam and performing other safety tests on a regular basis.
Qualified medical physicists have doctorates or master's degrees. They have completed at least four years of college, and then generally two-to-four years of graduate school. They also typically have one-to-two-years of clinical physics training. Medical physicists are certified by the American Board of Radiology or the American Board of Medical Physics.
During your treatment, you may also work with a number of other healthcare professionals. These specialists ensure that all of your physical and psychological needs are met during your treatment.
Social workers are available to provide a variety of support services to you and your family. They can provide counseling to help you and your family cope with the diagnosis of cancer and evaluate your treatment options. They may also help arrange for home health care and other services.
Nutritionists, also called dietitians, work with patients to help them maintain proper nutrition during their treatments. They will help you modify your eating plan if treatment is affecting your appetite and what you can eat, and can provide recipes, menu suggestions and information on ready-to-use nutritional supplements. They also address dietary issues and current developments that may affect cancer treatment outcomes.
Physical therapists use therapeutic exercises to ensure that your body functions properly while you are undergoing treatment. These exercises are used to help manage side effects, alleviate pain and keep you healthy.
Take advantage of the information and support your healthcare team has to offer. They are working with one goal in mind: the best possible outcome for your treatment.
Information courtesy of ASTRO, the American Society for Therapeutic Radiation and Oncology.