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Sharp Health News

What to expect from cancer radiation treatment

May 30, 2018

What to expect from cancer radiation treatment

Marcela Garcia is an oncology nurse and lead patient navigator at the Barnhart Cancer Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. She is part of a multidisciplinary team that helps patients receive the care they need.

The No. 1 question patients ask when receiving a cancer diagnosis is, “Will I die?” The No. 1 reason they should feel hopeful that they will, instead, live is the incredible care, state-of-the-art equipment and most up-to-date, evidence-based treatments currently available at care facilities like the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.

Marcela Garcia, a specially trained oncology nurse and lead patient navigator at the Barnhart Cancer Center, is part of an incredible multidisciplinary team of professionals, including doctors, nurses, physicists, therapists, case managers, dietitians, social workers and others. According to Garcia, each team member plays a part to ensure patients receive the individual care they need.

Garcia understands that a cancer diagnosis can be extremely frightening. The fear of the unknown can be overwhelming. To help patients and families better prepare for what’s to come, she explains what follows when a patient is referred for cancer radiation treatments.

Initial Visit
At your first visit, your doctor, a radiation oncologist, will obtain a medical history, perform an exam, and review your medical records and imaging. If, together, you decide that you will undergo radiation treatment, a plan will be created and your doctor will carefully explain each step and the treatment you will receive.

“When you come for your initial visit and consultation with one of our radiation oncologists, you are encouraged to bring along a list of questions — no matter how simple or complex,” Garcia says. “Knowing your concerns and the answers you hope to receive helps us to direct your care.”

CT Simulation
Your next radiation oncology appointment will include a computerized tomography (CT) simulation to plan the radiation treatment areas. During this appointment, it will be determined if a customized mask — if you are receiving radiation to the face or neck area — or constructed mobilization devices will be used during treatment. You will also receive tiny “tattoos,” usually no larger than the size of a small freckle or pinpoint, to mark the area to be treated.

“Throughout each of your visits, you will have the opportunity to ask as many questions as you like,” Garcia says. “We understand that a cancer diagnosis is not something you can prepare for and there is a lot to process. We will be there to support and comfort you every step of the way. Our goal is to establish open communication and a special connection with you, so that everything will flow once your treatments begin.”

Outpatient Radiation Treatment
Treatments usually begin within a few days to a week after your CT simulation. Treatments take 10 to 15 minutes and generally occur once a day, five days a week, for a duration of one to eight consecutive weeks, based on your doctor’s recommendation. It is very important to not miss appointments and come prepared to lie quietly and still during treatment. If you are concerned you may feel anxious or claustrophobic during treatments, talk to your care team and anti-anxiety medication may be recommended.

“Most patients don’t feel anything after the initial treatments, but side effects may be experienced after the second week of treatment,” Garcia says. “We have lots of ways to help patients deal with discomfort, skin reactions, nausea or any other side effect they may be experiencing. We also encourage them to try to keep moving and eat a healthy diet to help combat fatigue, which is the most common complaint after treatments and can be debilitating for some.”

Garcia feels strongly that patients who come to the Barnhart Cancer Center for treatment will feel well cared for. “Every member of the team is connected to patients, their families and their needs, well beyond basic care. We focus not only on a patient’s illness and treatment, but also on their emotional health to help them reach both physical and emotional wellness.”

For the news media: To talk with Marcela Garcia about radiation oncology treatments for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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