FAQ's about Radiation Oncology

FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) - Radiation Oncology

Does radiation therapy hurt?No. Receiving radiation does not hurt. The treatment couch, the table patients lie on to receive treatment might be uncomfortable. However, radiation therapy can result in some uncomfortable side effects. Many side effects are temporary.

How many radiation treatments will I need?The number of treatments needed is depends on the patient and cancer being treated. A course of external radiation therapy is often one or more treatments five days a week for two to 10 weeks.

Can I still work?Many people do still work during radiation therapy. You may need to talk to your employer about adjusting your schedule. Look into reducing the number of hours you work. Work at home if you can. However, every attempt is made to make your appointment time to be as convenient for you as possible.

Will I be affected sexually?Radiation therapy can cause sexual changes in both men and women. Fatigue may affect your desire to have sex. Also, radiation therapy to the pelvis may affect sexual organs. Talk to your partner and your radiation therapy team. If you don't feel like having sex, explore other ways to be close, such as hugging, cuddling, and talking. Radiation therapy to the pelvis can cause permanent infertility. If you plan to have children in the future, talk to your doctor. If you want to have sex, go ahead. Using water-based lubricant may be helpful. Do use birth control throughout your radiation treatment.

Should I exercise?Ask your doctor about starting an exercise program. It may help you sleep better, and sometimes help control some side effects. Exercise is also good for your body and your sense of well-being. Exercise during the times of day when you have the most energy. Don't push yourself. Even small amounts of exercise can help. Instead of jogging take a walk or ride a stationary bike.

Will treatment make me radioactive?External radiation therapy will not make you radioactive. You don't have to worry about being physically close to family members or friends.

Internal radiation therapy means that radioactive material is put into your body. So you will have to take some precautions for a short time. You therapy team will tell you what you need to do to keep others around you safe.

What are possible side effects?Radiation therapy can result in certain side effects. These side effects happen because normal cells are affected my by treatment. Keep in mind that having side effects does not mean that your cancer is getting worse or that therapy isn't working. Most radiation therapy side effects stop when your treatment is over. Common side effects are fatigue, appetite changes, and skin reaction at the treatment site. Other possible side effects depend on what area of the body is being treated. Examples of such side effects are hair loss in the area being treated; dry mouth if the head or neck is being treated; and bowel changes for treatment to the pelvic region.

What about my other medications?Give your radiation oncologist or radiation oncology nurse a complete list of all medicines you are currently taking, prescription and over-the-counter. He or she will review your current medications. You will most likely be able to continue taking your current medications throughout treatment.

What is Cancer?Cells in the body start out normal, growing and dividing the way they should. Occasionally, normal cells may change into cancer cells and begin to grow and divide uncontrollably. Sometimes they even spread to other parts of the body. A group of cancer cells is called a cancer tumor.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy is the used of radiation, high-energy photons and/or high-energy electrons, to treat cancer. The radiation can be delivered from outside the body (external beam radiation therapy - EBRT) or from inside the body (brachytherapy). With external beam radiation therapy, a machine directs beams of high-energy photons at the tumor. With brachytherapy, radioactive sources are placed in or around the cancer tumor.

Click here to watch a video from the American Cancer Society and Emmi Solutions giving more details on radiation therapy.

How does radiation therapy work?

Radiation therapy uses energy to treat cancer. The energy may be beams of x-rays aimed at the cancer from outside the body (external radiation therapy). Or, radiation can be given by radioactive implants placed inside the body near the cancer (internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy). In either case, the radiation destroys the cancer cells gradually, over time. The goal of therapy is to focus on and kill as many cancer cells as possible. But the radiation will damage or kill some of the normal cells that are closet to the tumor. Damaged normal cells can often repair themselves, often within a day or so.

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