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Ask the Expert: St. Luke’s Nassif Radiation Center

As part of our celebration of 10 years of the Nassif Community Cancer Center, our team members will give an inside look into the services available to our patients and how they can help them along the cancer journey.

Next up is Andrea Watkinson, manager – clinical services, sharing more about the role of St. Luke’s Nassif Radiation Center, which opened in October of 2015.

What Services Does the Radiation Center Provide?

At the Albert G. and Helen Nassif Radiation Center we have experienced and highly trained radiation oncologists, therapists and support staff. We offer the very latest technology and radiation therapy treatment options, education and information through our cancer care coordinators.

We have a multidisciplinary team that works in collaboration with the Nassif Community Cancer Center to seamlessly provide support services to patients receiving treatment at the center and their families. For radiation specifically, we offer external beam radiation, the most common form, which carefully aims high powered x-rays directly at the tumor from outside of the body. We also offer sterotactic radiation therapy allowing us to treat very small lesions at a high dose of radiation in fewer amounts of treatments. For our left breast cancer patients, or other patients clinically appropriate we use deep inspiration breath hold which allows us to provide additional protection to the patient’s heart during treatment.

Our center also offers brachytherapy which uses radioactive seeds placed directly into or near the tumor. Lastly, for thyroid cancer patients we are able to treat them with Radioactive Iodine 131. This treatment is used to destroy any thyroid tissue not removed by surgery or to treat some types of thyroid cancer that have spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

What Positions Make Up the Radiation Center Team and What Do They Do?

  • Radiation Oncologist: A radiation oncologist has advanced training, experience and education in the use of ionizing radiation to treat cancer. They prescribe the dose of radiation, oversee how treatments are given and closely monitor the progress of treatments. They work closely with other doctors and technicians as part of your multi-disciplinary cancer team.
  • Radiation Therapist: Therapists work with the patient every day during their radiation therapy sessions. They administer the patient’s prescribed dose of radiation using a linear accelerator and using advanced technology to provide accurate delivery of treatments. They also work closely with the radiation oncologist to monitor the effects and progress of a patient’s treatment.
  • Radiation RN: The nurse provides oncology-specialized nursing care during radiation treatments and consults with you regularly about treatments and works with your radiation oncologist to manage an side effects.
  • Medical Physicist: Physicists ensure the safety and accuracy of the radiation therapy equipment. They perform regular quality assurance checks and calibrations and verify all treatment plans prior to the beginning of treatments. The physicists are also very involved with the prostate brachytherapy program and working in collaboration with the radiation oncologist to create patient treatment plans.
  • Dosimetrist: Dosimetrists work closely with the radiation oncologist, using information acquired in the patient’s simulation, to design a treatment plan specifically for you. This allows cancer to be treated with minimal harm to the normal tissues.
  • Survivorship Nurse Practitioner: A nurse practitioner who works as part of the multidisciplinary team to help the patient transition from treatment to life after cancer. The survivorship nurse practitioner focuses on late and longer-term side effects, coordinating long-term follow up care and physical and psychosocial wellness as a cancer survivor.
  • Medical Secretary: Our medical secretary greets each patient and their family as they enter the radiation center. She works to get patients registered and checked in for their visits with us. She also assists referring offices and patients with any scheduling needs.

We also have the following team members who are part of the Community Cancer Center and provide support and work with radiation center patients: Medical Secretary, Research RN, Dietitian and Social Worker

What are Some of the Most Common Cancers Treated at the Radiation Center?

Prostate, Breast, Lung and Head and Neck cancers are our top treatment sites.

How has the Radiation Center Advanced Over the Last 6 Years?

Over the last six years we have continued to evolve making sure we are using the most up to date treatment delivery systems and protocols available.

Our physicians stay very current with the most recent data being released and work collaboratively with their partners across the system to ensure that our center is cutting edge. We have implemented equipment in our center allowing us to treat tiny lesions sterotactically, allowing patients more options down the road in the case that they would have a recurrence.

How Do You See the Services and Technologies Advancing in the Next 10 years?

Radiation therapy is something that is constantly changing. We see patients getting through treatment with fewer side effects based on how we can deliver treatments and time frames being changed allowing less trips to the center. I believe that these things will only continue to improve with new treatment modalities and studies that roll out.

What is Your Favorite Thing About Working at the Radiation Center?

My favorite thing about working in the radiation center is the team of individuals I get the opportunity to work with each day. Everyone in the department works day in and day out for the patient ensuring that the treatment they are receiving is top-of-the-line and making sure that they are being cared for as a person.

It is our personal mission within the department to help our patients to feel like family and make sure they are safe and comfortable during their time here with us, and I truly feel that our staff does this every day.

Andrea Watkinson
BSN, RN, OCN

Andrea has been with the Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center since April 2012.

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