A radiation therapist (RT) is an Allied Health Professional who uses ionising radiation to treat disease, usually cancer. They are part of the team of health professionals who work under the guidance of a Radiation Oncologist to care for and treat cancer patients. They are usually assigned to work on a rotating basis in one of three main areas: simulation, planning and treatment. Each patient would usually be cared for by at least 2 RTs for each procedure.
Simulation involves the gathering of all relevant data to plan and treat the patient. After detailed understanding of the patient’s notes, the RTs will conduct a patient briefing as to the process of simulation and what to expect. RTs are in charge of fabricating any immobilisation equipment used for the patient’s radiotherapy treatment. Their expertise is critical to ensure that the patient is as comfortable as possible while being immobilised. Following which, the simulator will be used to obtain a scan of the patient’s treatment area.
Planning, or dosimetry is where the radiation therapist uses the data gathered during simulation to plan the patient’s treatment. This is usually done on the computer. The oncologist will indicate where the treatment needs to be delivered and what dose of radiation the patient will receive. The radiation therapist is responsible for deciding the best way to aim the radiation at the cancer with the least effect on normal, or surrounding tissues. The radiation therapist must also work to ensure that sensitive tissues such as the eyes, heart or rectum receive as small a dose as possible, to limit long-term side effects of the treatment. The oncologist will approve the plan before the treatment starts.
When the patient arrives for treatment, the radiation therapist is responsible for ensuring the patient is treated accurately as well as providing them with emotional support. Before a patient’s first treatment, the radiation therapist will check through all of the planning information and make sure all relevant equipment is in the treatment room. The radiation therapist will explain the procedure to the patient and any questions-answer
Radiation therapists are responsible for supporting the patient throughout their treatment. They must have compassion and strong interpersonal skills. Part of their role is to listen to the emotional concerns and anxieties of the patient and refer them appropriately if needed. The radiation therapist will also assess the patient’s reaction to treatment, providing advice on the side effects of treatment and methods of alleviating these. Radiation therapists often develop close relationships with their patients, as they usually see them five days per week for between three and seven weeks.