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5 Things You NEED to Know about SRT

As a radiation therapist, I hear many misconceptions about what superficial radiation therapy (SRT) is and what it can do.

Misconceptions about superficial radiation therapy (SRT)

While getting radiation therapy, am I a danger to my loved ones?

Absolutely not. You are not radioactive from receiving radiation therapy. A machine produces the radiation; once that machine is turned off, all the radiation emitted from it is gone. It will continue to affect your body, but you do not give off any radioactivity. You can be near children and pregnant women without exposing them to your treatments.

I feel tired, is this treatment making me tired?

Not typically. Radiation treatments do require healing from your body. When your body is treated in larger areas, for example, breast cancer radiation, your body takes a big hit. That large portion of your body is being affected by the daily dose of radiation, and for those types of radiation treatments, yes, you would feel fatigued. For most skin cancers, the area treated is relatively small by comparison. Your body does not need to use as much of its energy to repair the radiation’s damage. More likely, the additional stress of another appointment added to your do-to list may be causing you to feel more worn down.

You are treating my face; are you sure it won’t hurt my brain?

Yes, I am sure. The amount of energy I use to treat skin cancer is relatively low. I typically use 50-70 kilovolt energy for superficial radiation treatments; when converted to skin depth, those can only penetrate a maximum of 9mm of soft tissue. Your skull is about 7mm thick. It is much denser than soft tissue and will stop the radiation before it has the chance to reach your brain. If you notice changes in mental functions, it is important to see a doctor, as there may be an underlying cause.

How do you know if you got it all?

The SRT machines, like many other treatments, have been studied for years. The results from these studies have been analyzed, and proper treatment protocols have been established. We calculate the amount of radiation delivered to each skin cancer and use these studies as our guide. The cure rate, when radiation is prescribed and treated correctly, is over 98%.

Once a patient completes treatment, the radiation continues to affect the cancerous cells for approximately four weeks. We recommend the patient come in for a follow-up visit where the dermatologist will clinically examine the treated area. We do not re-biopsy the site of the skin cancer. SRT boasts for its ability to eliminate skin cancers but also to reduce scarring. We do not want to cause unnecessary trauma and scarring to an area that does not indicate a need for it. If the patient insists, of course, we can take a sample of tissue for pathological examination.

After receiving radiation, it is recommended to return for skin examinations regularly and as directed by the dermatologist. Regular exams not only can monitor for new skin cancers but can allow for monitoring of the previously radiated area.

If I miss a treatment, do I have to start over?

No, missing a treatment does not require you to start over. You will start by adding the treatment you missed to the end of your treatment schedule. If you are prescribed 15 treatments and miss one, you will still receive all 15 treatments. It is recommended not to go more than seven days between treatments. Life happens, and sometimes that means gaps in treatment occur. We have calculations to determine how much of your dose was ‘lost’ due to this break. Large breaks often will require additional treatments to be added to the end of your schedule.

If you cannot come in regularly for your treatments, it is essential to let your radiation therapist know. The inability to follow your treatment plan will affect the cure rate. Your dermatologist may recommend a change in your treatment schedule or possibly hold your treatment until a later date.

Now you know!

Now you know more about superficial radiation therapy or SRT. It's important to be open and honest with your radiation therapist and the rest of your medical team who can equip you with the knowledge you need to successfully navigate treatment.

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