Seeing a radiation oncologist may be necessary during a cancer patients journey

Updated: Jul. 4, 2023 at 6:00 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Doctor Michael Fallon is a radiation oncologist with Marshfield Medical Center in Eau Claire.

“Radiation medicine is a specialty in internal medicine, where we use X-rays to treat many different things, mostly different types of malignancies or cancers,” Fallon said.

Fallon says radiation medicine is one of the oldest techniques to cure cancer and over the decades radiation treatment has evolved.

“Utilizing both machine technology and computers, science developed techniques where we could accurately conform our radiation beam to treat three dimensional objects, but also measure the dose of radiation in three dimensions so we could tell what dose we were given to any volume of tissue at any point in that tissue,” Fallon said.

When a patient is diagnosed with caner, their care team, which includes a surgical and medical oncologist, will decide if radiation is needed.

“Sometimes the surgeons will tag us upfront, sometimes they’ll send them to the medical oncology guys who they have a closer rapport with, and we’ll have our referrals from medical oncologist,” Fallon said.

If radiation treatment is a food fit, Fallon says the first step is to do a specialized CAT scan.

“The CAT scan is not what people are used to,” Fallon said. “It’s the same machine, but what we first do is we put a special inlay into the CAT scan table so that table can exactly matches the treatment table. We put people on the CAT scan table in the exact position we treat them.”

After that, a patient can head to the treatment table where Fallon says the beams can be shaped to conform to any size, shape, or thickness of what needs to be treated.

“Say with breast cancer, we can calibrate our machines to generate a beam of radiation that can conform to the contour of the breast while minimizing, to a very large degree, the exposure to the underlying lungs, heart, spinal cord,” Fallon said.

Fallon says radiation treatment can be used after surgery to decrease risk of recurrence and improve cure rates or to stop it from spreading.

“It can be used when cancers have spread to other parts of the body and people are developing some symptoms, whether it’s some pain from pinching a nerve or whether it’s trouble with getting a little winded or shortness of breath because it’s pinching an airway or closing it down on their way,” Fallon said.

When going through radiation treatment, Fallon says doses are spread out.

“It’s very much like a medication, you rarely do give the whole bottle,” Fallon said. “We usually give a small dose every day, Monday through Friday and depending upon the condition, it can go out to about 45 treatments.”

Adding that there’s always a risk of side effects, but says the focus is to not let the treatment hurt the patient.

Fallon also stresses the importance of keeping up with routine screening to catch cancer early.