SRT: Timeline for Treatment
All skin cancer journeys start in the same place, with diagnosis. It could be a discovery during your routine skin examination or a spot you need to have looked at, either way, a biopsy is done and you receive a skin cancer diagnosis. Your dermatologist then tells you the details: what kind of skin cancer it is and if it has invaded any surrounding areas. Luckily for you, it is a basal or squamous cell carcinoma, caught early, and it's very treatable.
Now what? You know this skin cancer is not something that belongs on your body. The next step is evaluating which treatment option is right for you. You are offered different treatments such as creams, surgery, or the option of undergoing superficial radiotherapy (SRT).
Let's say you went with superficial radiation treatment
For the sake of this article, you determine, based on the size and location of your skin cancer, that SRT is the right treatment option for you. The factors that influence you to make this decision consist of some of the following points:
- You won’t have any downtime.
- There is no cutting, so you won’t be left with a surgical scar.
- The treatments are very short and fit into your busy schedule.
- The cure rate is just as high as Mohs micrographic surgery.
- There are no systemic side effects.
- It preserves the appearance of the treated area, so you won’t have to undergo any reconstructive plastic surgeries afterward.
First step: your first treatment
You schedule your first appointment for your SRT treatment course. This visit is with your dermatologist and your radiation therapist. They work together to define the treatment area and plan your radiation treatment. Your dermatologist shows you your treatment field and it’s slightly larger than your initial skin cancer. They are treating the skin cancer as well as a small margin of skin around it; this ensures that any cancer cells that may be on the edges of the skin cancer are also eliminated during treatment. They need time to do calculations and further planning, so you set up your next visit to have your first treatment.
Second step: ongoing treatments, and what to expect
You are coming to the dermatology office multiple times a week. The radiation therapist calls you back into the specially designed superficial radiotherapy room. You lie down on a standard exam table and the therapist uses a lead apron and lead neck guard to shield your body. The therapist gives you lead-lined eye protection and then places the lead shielding around your skin cancer. The arm of the radiation machine is placed against the shield and locked into position. The therapist verifies that everything is set up correctly for your treatment, tells you that there is an intercom system in case you have any kind of emergency, and then steps outside of the room.
It's quicker than you might think
You are alone in the treatment room. Nothing happens for a few seconds, you figure that is while the radiation therapist is programming the machine. A fan starts running inside the machine, you don’t feel anything, you just hear the low humming of the fan. About thirty seconds go by, and you hear the door open and the radiation therapist returns. The treatment is over, there was no pain. It was actually a very uneventful treatment. You leave the office, and you feel no different than you did walking in 10 minutes earlier.
It becomes routine
You continue to visit the office, as scheduled, until completing your treatment course. You notice after a few visits you have developed a sunburn-like appearance over the area that is being treated. Your radiation therapist tells you that is a normal reaction and to continue to protect the area from the sun. Over time, the redness seems to fade as you near the end of your treatments. After your final dose of radiation, you are instructed to return in four weeks for a post-SRT exam with your dermatologist.
The final follow-up
Four weeks have gone by since your last radiation treatment. The redness has almost completely faded. That spot that never seemed to heal where your skin cancer was now looks no different than the skin around it. Your dermatologist inspects the area and tells you that there is no evidence of skin cancer, but now that you have had skin cancer, it is recommended you come in for skin examinations more frequently.
What was your experience with superficial radiation therapy like?
How well have your skin cancer diagnoses been explained to you?