Frequently Asked Questions About Radiation Therapy
Receiving radiation treatment is like having a chest x-ray. Your pet does not feel the radiation passing through its body. It is important that your pet doesn't move during treatment. Even the most cooperative patient cannot stay perfectly still long enough to complete a treatment. To tie an animal down without sedation is not humane. Sedation or anesthesia allows us to use very precise methods to treat only the area we want to irradiate.
Will My Pet Feel Pain During Treatment?
No, receiving a radiation treatment is like having a chest x-ray. Your pet does not feel the radiation passing through its body.
Why Is My Pet Sedated Or Put Under Anesthesia?
It is important that your pet doesn't move during treatment. Even the most cooperative patient cannot stay perfectly still long enough to complete a treatment. To tie an animal down without sedation is not humane. Sedation or anesthesia allows us to use very precise methods to treat only the area we want irradiated.
When Should I Feed My Pet?
We prefer cats to be fasted overnight, and dogs should not eat for at least 6 hours before treatment. This important precaution will reduce any chance of them vomiting from the sedation drugs. A little water during the day is fine. You can give them a light meal about an hour after getting home.
What Happens If They 'Accidentally' Eat Before Radiation?
Please call and we will see what we can do about rescheduling your appointment. Please let us know if it does happen, so we can be prepared for their treatment.
How Will My Pet Feel After Radiation?
Your pet will not have any immediate reaction to the radiation. After several weeks of treatment, mild to moderate fatigue may be seen. The effects you may notice following the treatment most likely will be due to the sedation drugs. These signs will normally wear off within 4-6 hours.
What Kinds Of Side Effects Should I Expect To See?
Generally the side effects you will see include a sunburn effect, loss of hair in the treatment area, and tiredness toward the end of treatment. Other side effects may occur. The doctor will go over these with you, if they apply to your pet's treatment plan.
When Will I Start To See The Side Effects?
The onset and severity depend on which treatment protocol the doctor has recommended for your pet. Treatments are site specific, so radiation reactions should be limited to the area being treated. Please keep in mind that radiation therapy is a cumulative treatment. You may not see anything for several weeks, but some reactions will last for 1-2 weeks after treatment.'¨'¨
What Can I Do To Help My Pet Feel Better If Side Effects Occur?
We recommend using aloe vera gel. You can find this in the tanning/sunburn section of any store. If you have the plant, applying the leaves directly to the skin is even better. When using gel, make sure it contains very little alcohol. Apply aloe as often as possible to the treatment area. Unless instructed to do so by the doctor, do not use topical antibiotic or cortisone creams. Vaseline and petroleum-based lotions are not recommended.
How Do I Know What Area Is Being Treated?
The treatment area is outlined with colored paint markers. Please do not wash these off! These marks are very important for accurate treatment. They will be highlighted after every treatment.
What Happens If The Marks Come Off?
While it takes more time to set the treatment field up, we have Polaroid photos and x-rays to document the fields. When necessary, we can use these records to re-mark the area.
What Is External Beam Irradiation?'¨'¨
Most cancer patients receive external radiation therapy, which uses a machine to direct high-energy rays or particles at the cancer and the normal tissues surrounding it. To minimize the amount of radiation to normal tissues, multiple fields, lead blocks, and bolus (a gel like material) may be utilized in portions of the treatment area. The patient is never radioactive and may continue to be part of the family throughout treatment. '¨'¨
What Are Side Effects Of Radiation?
Like all forms of cancer treatment, radiotherapy can have side effects. Possible complications of radiation treatments include tiredness, temporary or permanent hair loss, skin irritation, and/or temporary change in skin color in the treated area. Other side effects depend on the total dose and part of the body being treated. For example, radiation treatments of the mouth may result in sores or bright red tissues. Antiseptic mouthwashes may be needed in some cases. Similarly, when the rectum or anus is included in the field, reddening or tenderness, as well as straining to defecate may be seen. Stool softeners or diet changes may be helpful.'¨'¨
How Does Radiation Therapy Work?'¨'¨
Radiation therapy is the treatment of cancer and other diseases with ionizing radiation. Radiation therapy works by damaging DNA, the genetic information that is vital for cell division. Cancer cells rapidly divide which makes them especially sensitive to the effects of radiation.
How Is Radiation Therapy Given?
Radiation treatment can be given in one of two forms: external or internal. Determining the best method of delivery depends on the size, extent, type and grade of tumor along with its response to radiation therapy. Complex calculations are needed to determine the dose and length of treatment. We use a linear accelerator (linac) to deliver external radiation.'¨'¨
What Kinds Of Cancer Can Be Treated With Radiation?'¨'¨
Radiation therapy is an effective treatment for many types of cancer in almost any part of the body. Its two main goals are to cure cancer and relieve symptoms. For many patients, radiation is the only treatment needed; however, radiation treatment is frequently given in combination with chemotherapy and/or surgery. Radiation can be used before surgery to shrink a tumor, or after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may still be present. We sometimes use radiation along with anticancer drugs to destroy the cancer, instead of performing surgery.'¨'¨
Radiation can be used as a palliative therapy, meaning that its primary intent is not to cure the cancer, but to relieve pressure, bleeding, or pain by shrinking tumors. Bone cancer is often treated in this manner.'¨'¨
Radiotherapy may be used to treat localized solid tumors, such as cancers of the skin, nasal cavity, oral membranes, and subcutaneous tissues. It can also be used to treat leukemia and lymphoma (cancers of the blood-forming cells and lymphatic system).'¨'¨
What Is Cancer?
Normal cells divide and replace themselves in an orderly process, keeping the body healthy and repairing structures as needed. Cancer occurs when cells lose the ability to control their own growth. These abnormal cells multiply quickly, forming clumps of tissue called tumors. Because cancer can spread systemically, it is vital that we thoroughly evaluate your pet's health before proceeding with treatment. '¨'¨Clinical staging for most pets will require a battery of tests, including blood counts, serum chemistries, urinalysis, and x-ray or ultrasound examinations of chest, abdomen , and affected areas. In some cases, CT or MRI scans or radionuclide scintigraphy may be needed. Cancer staging is an essential step to help the medical staff choose the best treatment for your pet.
What Do I Do If My Pet Licks The Treatment Area?'¨'¨
Do your best to make sure that your pet is NOT licking the area. Tissue trauma caused by licking or chewing will slow down the healing process. If the area is too badly damaged, treatment may need to be suspended. If licking becomes a problem, we strongly recommend the use of an Elizabethan collar. No one enjoys having to put the lampshade on a pet, but it really helps things heal faster.
What Happens If We Miss A Treatment?'¨'¨
We do not recommend that you miss a treatment. Please let us know if a conflict occurs. Occasionally, we may need to cancel your appointment due to unforeseen circumstances. In either case, we will try to change your appointment to a mutually convenient time. If a treatment is missed, that fraction will be made up at the end of the treatment schedule.
What Happens When There Is A Holiday?'¨'¨
Depending on which day the holiday falls, we will try to 'make up' that dose during the same week. If that is not possible, we will 'tack' the treatment on at the end.
How Is The Number Of Treatments Determined?'¨'¨
There are many types of cancer and each reacts in a different manner to radiation. Cancer has been treated with radiation for more than thirty years. We use the results of past studies and experiences to determine the total dose of radiation. These studies also suggest the optimal fractionation schedule, i.e., how much radiation to deliver per treatment. The size and stage of the cancer also plays a role in determining your pet's treatment protocol.
What Is The Difference Between Curative And Palliative Treatment Protocols?
'¨'¨When cure is the result we want to accomplish, the treatment fractionation is more treatments with a lower dose given each time. By using this method we can dramatically reduce the possibility of long-term side effects. If our goal is to relieve immediate pain or swelling, then a high dose, short-term fractionation is chosen, usually 3-6 treatments. This approach is designed to help the pet be more comfortable in their final days or months.
'¨'¨Important Things To Remember...
- Radiation passes through the body; your pet will not be radioactive after treatment is completed.
- Only body parts in the field of radiation are affected. Nausea or vomiting should not occur unless abdominal organs are irradiated.
- Normal cells begin to repair themselves within hours after exposure to radiation.
- Cancer cells are less able to fix radiation-induced defects than normal tissues.
- Side effects that occur during radiation therapy are usually mild and readily managed. Our doctors and nurses will help you deal with them as needed.'¨
- Receiving radiation treatment is like having a chest x-ray. Your pet does not feel the radiation passing through its body. It is important that your pet doesn't move during treatment. Even the most cooperative patient cannot stay perfectly still long enough to complete a treatment. To tie an animal down without sedation is not humane. Sedation or anesthesia allows us to use very precise methods to treat only the area we want to irradiate.