What can a cancer patient expect for their first visit to the radiation oncologist? How can we prepare for the visit?
Whether you have initiated the visit or another physician involved in your care, has referred you to a radiation oncologist, you are there to learn whether radiation therapy is indicated as a part of your treatment. If indicated, you will also be given information on the area where radiation would be focused on, the total dose of radiation. the number of radiation treatments necessary as well as its potential acute (aka early) and late (chronic) side effects. The radiation oncologist may also share the data supporting his/her recommendation.
How you can prepare yourself for your first visit with a radiation oncologist is very similar to visiting any other specialist but what makes it unique and in some instances challenging, is the many myths around radiation therapy. So the best you can do for yourself and the radiation oncologist you are seeing is to remove any myth from your mind. The experience your grandmother or neighbor had with radiation treatment is totally irrelevant to your situation. Maybe they had a different form of cancer. Maybe their cancer was the same but presented at an earlier or later stage. With the rapid and progressive improvement in radiation technology, comparing radiation treatment your grandmother received 10 or 20 years ago with yours, would be comparing apples and oranges. So do your best to remove the myths and fears and receive the information with an open mind.
The information one can find on the internet is as good as its source. So unless you have been given a reliable source of information, do not trust everything you find on the internet. Acquiring misinformation would not only not be helpful to you, it may increase your anxiety and apprehension about radiation treatments.
In general, I would recommend the following for preparation for your visit:
- It is a great habit to obtain a copy of all pertinent information prior to your visit. Even though, with your permission, physicians offices communicate these vital information prior to your visit, any missing information can interfere with having a productive consultation.
- It is extremely helpful to have your own version of your medical and surgical history to include all your past medical issues, the medications you are taking (including the supplements you might have bought at GNC or given by your chiropractor), your allergies, and very importantly your family history of cancer. Your family history of cancer may lead into genetic testing and completely change the recommended treatment for your specific cancer.
- It is helpful to have someone accompany you. You will be given plenty of new information making it almost impossible to retain all of it. Having a second pair of ears and eyes, especially if your company would take notes, would be extremely helpful in recording and retaining the information.
- Prepare questions ahead of time and do not hesitate to ask about anything you do not understand. As smart and intelligent as you are, you are not a radiation oncologist and are not expected to understand all the technical details of it.
- At the end of your consultation, repeat a summary of the information you have received. It is not unusual to misunderstand something and you can only correct that by comparing your understanding with what the radiation oncology meant to tell you.
- If you feel that you have not grasped all the information or have remaining questions, do not hesitate to ask for a second visit when you can spend more time clarifying those matters with your radiation oncologist.
- Please understand that that final decision regarding your treatments is yours. If you do not feel comfortable with the information you have been given, do not hesitate to seek second opinion.
- If you have received radiation in the past, please make sure to have details of your previous treatment, because that is crucial in determining whether you can receive radiation again or not.
- Please understand that preparation for your radiation treatments may take anywhere from days to weeks. Do not expect to start your treatment on the day of your consultation.
- Breaks during your radiation treatments would negatively impact the outcome of your treatments. So be prepared to cancel a trip you had scheduled a year ago if your radiation oncologist finds it detrimental to delay start of your radiation treatment.
- Sometimes radiation and chemotherapy are recommended together. Even though your radiation oncologist and medical oncologist would do their best to coordinate your treatments, consider yourself a member of the treatment team and have all the information you can get to facilitate the coordination.
- If it alleviates your anxiety ask for a tour of the department, take a look at the radiation machine and meet all the members of radiation team including radiation therapists, the dosimetrist and the physicist.
- It is often helpful not to rely on your imagination so ask your radiation oncologist to show you some images of radiation plans and beams. It may put your mind at ease.
- Just as you do at radiology department, please notify your radiation oncologist if you are pregnant or there is any possibility you might be pregnant
- And last but not the least ask your radiation oncologist for reliable sources (books, websites, brochures) to educate yourself not only on your radiation treatments but also its potential side effects and your nutrition throughout the course of treatment.