Frequently asked questions
What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy is a highly effective, pain-free treatment option used to cure or control the spread of cancer, bring relief to symptoms including pain, and improve the quality of life of patients with cancer. Radiation therapy is used on up to 80% of all cancers, including breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, brain tumors, and more.
Radiation therapy involves the use of various kinds of radiation treatment techniques. The most effective radiation technique is designed to destroy abnormal (cancer) cells while sparing the normal surrounding tissue.
External radiation therapy treatment (also known as IMRT, 3-D Treatment Planning, or External Beam radiation) involves the careful and accurate use of a high-energy beam that passes through living tissue to directly target a cancerous tumor and then exits out the other side of the body.
Will radiation therapy hurt?
Patients cannot see, smell, taste, hear, or feel radiation treatment. The actual radiation treatments are very similar to getting an X-ray. A small number of patients have felt warmth or a tingling sensation in the treatment area, but did not feel any pain or discomfort.
Will I experience side effects?
Many patients have no side effects at all, but some patients do experience side effects associated with the treatment area. Side effects vary from patient to patient and will depend mostly on the treatment dose, the part of the body that is treated, and the patient's general health before treatment.
The most common side effects are fatigue and some skin redness in the treatment area. Other side effects are usually related to the treatment of specific areas, such as hair loss following radiation treatment to the head.
Although unpleasant, most side effects are not serious and can be controlled with medication or diet.
Can I continue to work during radiation treatment?
Yes, most people undergoing radiotherapy can continue to work full time.
Can I take my medications?
Your physician will need to be aware of all medications and/or herbal products that you are currently taking, including large doses of any one vitamin. Good nutrition is important during your radiation treatments and taking a multivitamin at this time is acceptable. In some cases, however, mega-vitamins may be harmful.
How long will the course of treatment last?
Treatments are delivered daily, Monday through Friday. The length of a patient’s treatment varies depending on the stage and type of cancer.
How long is each daily treatment session?
On average, a patient’s appointment lasts 20-30 minutes. The actual radiation treatment takes 2-7 minutes, depending on the type of treatment.
Will the treatment make me radioactive?
External-beam radiation therapy does not make a person radioactive at any time. The radiation is delivered to the body and there is no lingering radiation once the treatment machine is turned off.
Am I safe to be around children?
Yes, you are completely safe to interact with children of any age.
Is it safe to be sexually active?
Yes. You cannot transfer radiation or cancer to your partner. However, if you are trying to have children, speak with your physician.
Can I drive to my radiation treatment?
Almost all patients are able to drive while receiving radiotherapy treatment. However, with some types of cancer, driving may not be recommended due to fatigue or strong pain medication. Your physician will be able to address your specific case.