therapy is used to treat cancer in the human body. As part of a medical
radiation oncology team, radiation therapists use machines called linear
accelerators to administer radiation treatment to patients. Linear
accelerators are most commonly used in a procedure called external beam
therapy, which projects high-energy X rays at targeted cancer cells. As
the X rays collide with human tissue, they produce highly energized ions
that can shrink and eliminate cancerous tumors. Radiation therapy is
sometimes used as the sole treatment for cancer, but it is usually used
in conjunction with chemotherapy or surgery.
treatment can begin, the oncology team has to develop a treatment plan.
To create this plan, the radiation therapist must first use an X-ray
imaging machine or computer tomography (CT) scan to pinpoint the
location of the tumor. Then, a radiation oncologist (a physician who
specializes in therapeutic radiology) and a radiation physicist (a
worker who calibrates the linear accelerator) determine the best way to
administer treatment. The therapist completes the plan by positioning
the patient and adjusting the linear accelerator to the specifications
developed by the team, recording the details so that these conditions
can be replicated during treatment. The therapist later explains the
treatment plan to the patient and answers any questions that the patient
next step in the process is treatment. To begin each treatment session,
the radiation therapist uses the guidelines developed during the
planning phase to position the patient and adjust the linear
accelerator. Then, from a separate room that is protected from the X-ray
radiation, the therapist operates the linear accelerator and monitors
the patient's condition through a TV monitor and an intercom system.
Treatment can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.
During the treatment phase, the radiation therapist monitors the
patient's physical condition to determine whether the patient is having
any adverse reactions to the treatment. The therapist must also be aware
of the patient's emotional well-being. Because many patients are under
stress and are emotionally fragile, it is important for the therapist to
maintain a positive attitude and provide emotional support.
keep detailed records of their patients' treatments. These records
include information such as the dose of radiation used for each
treatment, the total amount of radiation used to date, the area treated,
and the patient's reactions. Radiation oncologists and dosimetrists
(technicians who calculate the dose of radiation that will be used for
treatment) review these records to ensure that the treatment plan is
working, to monitor the amount of radiation exposure that the patient
has received, and to keep side effects to a minimum. Therapists also may
assist dosimetrists with routine aspects of dosimetry, the process used
to calculate radiation dosages.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.