Behind the Scenes of Radiation Treatment Planning

June 29, 2022

By the Alliance Cancer Care Physics Team

Our team at Alliance Cancer Care (ACC) helps guide you through your cancer treatment journey every step of the way.  We use innovative technology to make your treatment fast, accurate, and beneficial to your health.  You will meet our front-line radiation oncology team during your treatment, including your physician, nurses, and therapists.  Some ACC team members work in the background to ensure that your treatment is successful.

What is a Medical Physicist?

A medical physicist is an essential behind-the-scenes role in radiation treatment.  The medical physics team at ACC maintains the functionality of the treatment machines, ensures the delivered dose aligns with the original physician-approved plan, ensures protection to radiation-sensitive areas of the body, and maintains a protected medical environment for our patients and staff.  In essence, the physics team is an interdisciplinary resource in your radiation planning team and ensures safety by inspecting daily treatments to ensure all system components are communicating effectively.  Physicists’ involvement in your treatment journey provides a safe, comfortable, and accurate treatment most beneficial to your health.

What is Quality Assurance?

Quality assurance is testing to ensure that your radiation plan is delivered to you exactly as intended.  This requires extensive testing of each component of the process, especially our machines, which are called linear accelerators.  This is a job supervised or performed by our physics team.

We thoroughly test the linear accelerators in our clinics to meet the professional standard set by the American Associate of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) on a daily, monthly, and annual basis.  Before any patient treatment, the radiation therapists test every linear accelerator’s ability to produce radiation with various characteristics in an acceptable tolerance to ensure a successful day of patient treatments.  The medical physics team then tests the mechanical, safety, and dose delivery features of all machines monthly.  The applied tests further check all major components that play an active role in delivering precise radiation.  The mechanical components are thoroughly checked to ensure they are moving with millimeter accuracy.  We systematically crosscheck subtle motions of internal parts that alter the radiation field with expected treatment standards and we meticulously measure the linear accelerator’s radiation output.  Finally, we perform major annual exams on all treatment machines testing the behavior of radiation delivery compared to measurements we collected when the machine was first installed.  The ACC physics team accurately tests all machines you see throughout your cancer treatment to meet our highest expectations.

We also have special processes to ensure that each patient is receiving treatment that is safe and effective.  This involves reviewing your plan to check that radiation is going into the tumor or target, and that we are avoiding normal tissues.  In some cases, we perform testing using an individual patient’s treatment plan to ensure that the machine output matches our intended radiation dose.  This process is part of the reason for the delay between your simulation, or planning session, and your first day of treatment.  Depending on the complexity of your treatment, this process may take several days.

Why Does This Matter?

Although you may not see a physicist at your treatment, you may rest assured that the medical physics team is always working to ensure your well-being and safety as our top priority.  Our passion to deliver a unique and beneficial treatment for each patient is only surpassed by our mission to provide compassionate care with state-of-the-art technology in your fight against cancer.  Hearing the energetic ringing of a bell and cheers and claps when you finish treatment is our true reward and greatest joy.