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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What Radiation looks like.

Carl is getting 15 days of radiation treatment to the leg, so I thought that it is probably a good time to describe what radiation is and show you what radiation looks like. I'm going to describe radiation with my non-medical understanding. Our non-medical terminology for radiation is 'getting zapped'.

Froedtert Hospital radiation machine 2010
Radiation is a 'local treatment'. This means radiation treatments do not kill miscellaneous cancer cells floating around the body, just cancer cells in the vicinity of the location where the radiation is directed. [The 'local area']. Cancer cells outside of the target area should not be affected. Since radiation can not distinguish between healthy cells and tumor cells, there needs to be caution that the treatment is not killing healthy cells of needed structures.
siemens mevatron radiation machine
Because radiation has to travel through healthy tissue to get to tumor tissue, two intersecting planes of radiation beams are used to concentrate the radiation at the area you want to kill. Unfortunately, the radiation is passing through healthy tissue and can leave some 'collateral damage', (healthy cells harmed). Therefore you have to hope the side effects aren't significant.

The radiation machine has a table that the patient lies on. The table can raise and lower, and move back and forth to align the patient. The table then remains still for the treatment. The machine has large arms that create two planes of radiation beams. These arms can move around the patient. The machine uses complicated mathematical formulas to focus planes of beams of radiation from two directions. The radiation travels through the skin and focuses on the tissue inside to kill (hopefully) tumor cells.

The radiation people carefully map the area of the tumor, and decide what area of the tumor to zap with what power. (The radiation beams are turned on and off, 'contoured' to match the shape and size of the tumor that they are targeting). The map and power information is programmed into the machine.

Radiation therapists build a custom molded form for the patient to align the area to be treated in a precise location. The face mask shown here was created for Carl to stabilize his head and neck for treatment.

For treatment, the radiation therapists strap the person down, align the machine, and leave the room, closing the thick lead door behind them; and then start the radiation treatment. The patient needs to lie still for the procedure, which is relatively fast once the machine is turned on (under 5 minutes) This can be a problem for claustrophobic people, (but not Carl, thankfully.) Wiggling around during treatment would be a big no-no. I wonder how they get children to lay still.

The radiation therapists watch the patient and machine progress closely from monitors in the next room. If you look closely at the top two monitors above, you can see the second arm of the machine extended.

Carl had radiation before, a 10 treatment course spanning 2 weeks December 27, 2009 through January 2010. At that time they were radiating to some cancer cells in Carl's neck. The photos in this blog posting are from that time period, when Carl still had hair. Click on the photos to zoom in and see them larger.

This time Carl is getting 15 radiation treatments to the left leg from April 20th through May 10th, 2010. Carl is getting the radiation treatments with with concurrent chemotherapy. The chemotherapy helps to activate and react with the radiation, which might make the radiation work even better, and the chemo can also treats any systemic (body wide) cancer cells that are lurking about.

The radiation rooms are shielded with lead on all sides. The door to the room housing the radiation machine is made of lead about 12 inches thick.

The technology is amazing, and yet still has a way to go. The Star Trek hand held scanner used by Dr. McCoy seems quite a distance away. But I am praying these big machines get the job done well. Time will tell, but in the meanwhile I appreciate all the prayers that have been sent our way. God Bless.

1 comment:

Tammy said...

Thanks for the update Jeanne,
praying for your family continually.
Take Care