Radiation Therapy: Is a Cancer Treatment Career for You?

Radiation TherapyHave you ever considered radiation therapy schools for your post-secondary education? Working in health care is fulfilling in itself, but what if you could concentrate on one of the most important sectors of the field? By attending a radiation therapy school, you can prepare to work in this vital area of cancer treatment.

The Cold Hard Facts About Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1.5 million cancer patients were expected to be diagnosed in 2010 alone, and cancer accounts for almost one of every four deaths in the U.S. However, the National Cancer Institute estimates that about 11.5 million Americans who have been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives were survivors as of January, 2006—either cancer-free or continuing treatment.

That survival statistic is made possible, in part, by those who have dedicated their careers to cancer research and treatments. By choosing radiation therapy for your post-secondary education, you can join the ranks of those who are fighting cancer—one of the leading causes of death not only in America, but worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Radiation Therapy – The What, Why, and How

To understand radiation therapy, you must first have a basic knowledge of what cancer is. The American Cancer Society describes cancer as a "group of diseases characterized by uncontrollable growth and spread of abnormal cells." These abnormal cells can be caused by either external or internal factors. Examples of external factors include tobacco use and exposure to chemicals, radiation, or infectious organisms. The list of internal factors involves the mutation of cells through inherited genes, hormone levels, and metabolism.

There are various treatments currently used to combat cancer—radiation therapy being one of them. Radiation therapy schools will provide you with a comprehensive knowledge of what this treatment is and how it works, but the basic idea is that ionizing radiation is carefully directed at a patient through a machine in order to damage the DNA of cancerous cells. Radiation therapy is generally used in several different ways, including:

  • Curative Treatment – a therapeutic treatment used to help increase the chances of survival
  • Palliative Treatment – a treatment used to help prevent further spreading of the disease, or to control symptoms, when a cure is not possible

What to Expect from Radiation Therapy Schools

High-Growth Jobs That Help PeopleRadiation therapy schools will prepare you to become part of a cancer management team. You will gain the necessary theoretical knowledge and hands-on skills to work with radiation oncologists, operating industry-current radiation technology, such as linear accelerators, to administer treatments. Radiation therapy treatments are usually ongoing, with a patient receiving multiple treatments over several weeks. Therefore, you will also learn to monitor, track, and record the clinical progress of each patient. Clinical practice is also generally a main component of radiation therapy programs, providing you with the opportunity to gain real-life experience in the field and receive supervised training while working with actual patients.

Advanced-level programs, such as master's or doctoral degrees, may also prepare you to handle patient consultations, medication prescriptions, and the interpretation of test results.

Because many states require that radiation therapists become certified before they can legally work in the field, many radiation therapy schools include certification exam preparation as part of their curriculums. The examination is managed by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART). The written portion of the exam and covers various aspects, including:

  • Radiation protection and quality assurance
  • Clinical concepts in radiation oncology
  • Treatment planning and delivery
  • Patient care and education

In addition, candidates must demonstrate clinical skills related to fabrication of beam modification devices, the application of radiation, low volume/high risk procedures, and patient care activities.

Is a Career in Radiation Therapy for You?

While radiation therapy can be emotionally difficult, for many in the field it's all worth it to see the patients who do respond positively to radiation therapy, and to know that they are doing their part to help save lives.

Now that you understand more about this vitally important career field, if it seems like the right fit for your career future, this online guide to radiation therapy schools is a great place to begin your research into individual schools and programs.