- Published: 27 March 2012
When faced with cancer, many questions arise. We have tried to answer some of them here.
What Is Cancer?
Cancer develops when cells in a part of the body begin to grow out of control. Although there are many types of cancer, they all start because of out-of-control growth of abnormal cells. Normal body cells grow, divide and die in an orderly fashion. Instead of dying, cancer cells continue to grow and divide. They outlive normal cells and continue to form new abnormal cells.
Why do cancer cells develop?
DNA is present in every cell and directs all activities. Most of the time when DNA becomes damaged the body is able to repair it. Not so in cancer cells. People can inherit damaged DNA, which accounts for inherited cancers. More often, though, a person’s DNA becomes damaged by exposure to something in the environment, like smoking or prolonged exposure to the sun.
What are the most common types of cancer?
A complete list of types of cancer can be found at AboutCancer.com.
What are the chances of getting cancer?
The life time risk of developing cancer is now 45% for men and 38% for women (see more statistics).
What is WellSpring Oncology?
WellSpring Oncology is a cancer treatment center located in Pinellas County, Florida featuring a comprehensive collection of equipment and personnel specializing in cancer treatment and care.
Who are the physicians?
Dr. Frank Franzese, Dr. Robert Miller, Dr. Zucel Solc, and Dr. Debra Freeman are the primary physicians and founders of WellSpring. They bring extensive experience and are considered leading oncologists in Tampa Bay.
Where is WellSpring located?
WellSpring Oncology, a cancer care center is located in Pinellas County and is convenient to most Tampa Bay Area residents. Our address is 6600 Sixty Sixth Street North, Pinellas Park, FL 33781. You can get more detailed directions by visiting our Contact page.
What treatment is right for me?
Your WellSpring Doctor will discuss the specifics about your cancer treatment and how the three common treatments, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery will be used. We understand the challenges facing cancer patients, and our physicians are here to help you get well. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.
What insurance plans do you accept?
We accept many insurance and health management plans. Please contact our Billing and Insurance Specialist at (727) 343-0600 to find out if WellSpring Oncology and Cancer Center is in your plan.
What side effects should I expect during treatment?
There have been dramatic improvements in delivering radiation therapy that have greatly improved the accuracy and lowered the risk of complications, but many patients still experience some side effects.
The side effects of radiation depend on the area treated, the total dose and individual sensitivity. Patients who are getting chemotherapy at the same time as radiation will typically have more side effects. Avoiding things that can aggravate side effects (such as continued smoking or excessive sun exposure) can help along with good nutrition.
For a detailed discussion of side effects by treatment area and nursing instructions, go here.
How does radiation therapy work?
Radiation therapy works by damaging the DNA (genes) of tumor cells. DNA damage stops tumor cells from dividing, growing and spreading. Radiotherapy is a useful tool for treating cancer because cancer cells grow and divide more rapidly than most normal cells around them.
Although some normal cells are affected by radiation, most normal cells appear to recover more fully from the effects of radiation than do cancer cells. Your radiation oncologist will carefully limit the intensity of treatments and the area being treated so that the cancer will be affected more than the normal tissues.
What are the benefits and goals of radiation therapy?
Radiotherapy is an effective means of treating many types of cancers in almost any part of the body. Nearly two-thirds of all cancer patients receive radiation during the course of their disease, and the number of cancer patients who have been cured is rising every day.
For many patients, radiation is the only treatment needed. Thousands of patients are free of cancer after having radiation therapy alone or in combination with surgery, chemotherapy or both.
Your doctors may choose to use radiation before surgery to shrink your tumor. Or radiation may be used after surgery to sterilize microscopic tumor cells potentially left behind. Your doctor may use radiation along with chemotherapy.
Even if cure of your cancer is not possible, radiotherapy may still be indicated to bring relief from symptoms caused by the tumor. Many patients find that the quality of their lives is greatly improved when radiation is given to shrink tumors and reduce pressure, bleeding, pain or other distressing symptoms. This is calledpalliative radiation therapy.
Are there risks involved?
Like all other treatments of cancer, there are risks for patients who undergo radiation therapy. Radiation used to damage or destroy cancer cells may also hurt normal cells. When this happens, patients may experience side effects.
The risk of side effects, however, is less than the potential benefits of killing cancer cells. Your radiation oncologist will not advise you to undergo treatment unless its potential benefits (control of disease and relief of symptoms) are greater than its potential risks.
How is radiation therapy given?
Radiotherapy can be delivered using one of two approaches: external or internal radiotherapy. Some patients, however, may require both forms.
Most patients who receive treatment undergo external beam radiotherapy. Such treatment is typically delivered as an outpatient visits once daily (Monday through Friday) over several weeks. In some cases, your doctor may choose to deliver several treatments per day. In external therapy, a machine known as a linear accelerator (linac) is used to direct high-energy x-rays or particles (electrons) at the cancer. At WellSpring we also offer tomotherapy, which is a more precise delivery method of radiation.
When internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy, is indicated, a radioactive substance, or source, is used. Another name for internal radiation therapy is an “implant”. During the implant procedure, a radioactive source is placed either next to (intracavitary implant) or within (interstitial implant) the tumor.
To aid in the delivery of the treatment, a small plastic or metal apparatus may be temporarily inserted into the body which holds the radioactive source in its proper place.
Two primary methods are used to deliver brachytherapy: low-dose-rate (LDR) and high-dose-rate (HDR) techniques. For much of the last century, patients were treated with LDR brachytherapy which delivered treatment slowly over several days. LDR required the patient to be admitted to the hospital and typically placed at strict bed rest.
Today, patients undergoing brachytherapy are treated predominantly with HDR techniques administered over a few minutes on an outpatient basis.
Who administers radiation treatments?
A doctor who has had special training in using radiation to treat disease, known as a Radiation Oncologist, will prescribe the type and amount of treatment that is required in your individual case.
Radiation Oncology, however, is a team approach and many professionals are involved in the planning and delivery of your treatment. Your radiation team includes:
- A Medical Physicist, who makes sure that the equipment is working properly and that the right dose of radiation is delivered;
- A Dosimetrist, who works closely with your Radiation Oncologist and Medical Physicist to develop your treatment plan;
- A Radiation Oncology Nurse/Nurse Practitioner, who provides nursing care and helps you learn about treatment and how to manage side effects;
- A Radiation Therapist, who sets you up every day on the treatment table and operates the radiation equipment under the supervision of your Radiation Oncologist and Medical Physicist.
Is radiation therapy expensive?
Treatment of cancer with radiation therapy can be costly. It requires very complex equipment and the services of many health care professionals. The exact cost of your radiation therapy will depend on the type and number of treatments you need. Fortunately, most health insurance policies, including Medicare, cover charges for radiation therapy.
Prior to treatment, a financial specialist will contact your insurance provider to obtain authorization of the treatment you require. If you have any questions or concerns regarding financial issues, please bring them to the attention of the front office staff, Radiation Oncologist, or Nurse.
Are the side effects the same for every patient?
Side effects of radiation treatment vary from patient to patient. You may have no side effects or only a few mild ones during your treatment. Or you may have more serious side effects. The side effects that you experience depend mostly on the treatment dose and the part of the body treated.
Your general health may also affect how your body reacts to radiation and whether you develop side effects. Before beginning treatment, your Radiation Oncologist and Radiation Nurse will discuss the side effects that you may experience, how long they might last, and how serious they might be.
There are two main types of side effects: acute and chronic. Acute, or short-term, side effects occur during the treatment and are usually gone completely within a few weeks of finishing treatment. Chronic, or long-term, side effects may take months or years to develop and may be permanent.
The most common side effects include fatigue and skin irritation. Fatigue may result from treatment to any site in the body. Skin irritation may not occur, particularly if tumors deep inside the body are treated. However, if it does, it is limited to the area treated.
Side effects in general are related to the area treated. For example, hair loss may occur when undergoing treatment to the head. Diarrhea may occur when undergoing treatment to the abdomen or pelvis.
Fortunately, most side effects will go away in time. In the meantime, there are ways to reduce the discomfort they cause. If you have a side effect that is particularly severe, your Radiation Oncologist may prescribe some medications or a break in your treatment you’re receiving.
Be sure to tell you Radiation Oncologist, Radiation Nurse, or Radiation Therapist about any side effects that you notice. They can help you treat the problems.
Will side effects from treatment limit my activities?
Not necessarily. It will depend on what side effects you develop and how severe they are. Many patients are able to return to work, do light housekeeping, and enjoy leisure activities while they are receiving radiation therapy.
Other patients find that they need to rest more than usual and therefore can’t do as much. You should try to do the things you enjoy as long as you don’t become too tired.
For a detailed discussion of side effects by treatment area and nursing instructions, go here.