Friday, September 5, 2008

Behind the Rays of Radiation

I have received numerous questions about radiation and what exactly it is so I am going to try my best to give information on it. I am not a doctor and I apologize if I get something wrong in my explanation but this is my understanding of it.

Radiation uses ionized radiation to attempt to halt progress in malignant tumor cells. Radiation is measured in either RADS or Grays. A Gray is 100 RADS. You may have seen me refer to the brain being able to safely have 6000 RADS or 60 gray administered to it. (You can read more about it here.) The particular type I am getting is also fractionated. This means I will receive the 60 gray over 30 treatments of smaller doses.

With the type I am receiving, the first step is to create a mask so that you are always in the exact same position. This helps ensure accuracy and make sure that there is as little damage to surrounding good tissue as possible. The mask is make of a hard mesh type material with holes so you can breathe out of it. The mask is bolted to the table during each session so you can't move.

This mask is custom fitted for each patient and is very tight upon their face. (Mine is close enough that if I open and close my eyes, my eyelashes get stuck in the holes.) During the mask creation, they take this material and heat it. It stretches over your face and they attach it to the table. As it cools, it hardens. After this is done they take scans so that they can get the treatment exact.

All the above occurs the first time you go in. After that the treatment takes about five minutes to do but it is done every day Monday thru Friday.

The radiation itself is pretty anti-climatic. You lay down on a table similar to a CT-Scan and they snap your mask into place. The machine adjusts itself where it needs to be and makes some noises as the radiation itself is administered. They say the actual radiation takes just a few seconds and the rest of it is the machine getting into position. The arm will move in and out or around in order to get into position. For my treatments, it moves to my right side about one and a half arm lengths out, administers a dose, then moves above me about half an arm length out and administers another, then moves to the left about an arms length out and does the final one. That's it. When that is finished, they unsnap me and I can go home.

The possible side-effects when dealing with the brain can be quite significant but we just have to hope that the good brain cells repair themselves adequately. I've already experienced the hair loss (I'm hoping I'm in the temporary category and not the permanent) in the area the treatment is administered. Other symptoms include redness similar to a sun burn, swelling of the brain that causes nausea and headache, and fatigue (again something I'm experiencing). Other late appearing side effects could be cognitive difficulties, radiation tumors, or complications from necrosis (Dying of the tumor and brain cells).

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