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FAQs: Radiation Therapy

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What is Radiation?

Radiation is a special type of high energy that destroys cancer cells so that they can't make new cancer cells. The radiation oncologist is the doctor who will decide how much radiation you will receive, where to receive it and how you will receive it, depending on the size and location of your tumor.

Will I lose my hair when I am treated with radiation?

You will only lose the hair in the area in which you are being treated.

Can I shield the rest of my body from the radiation?

This is not necessary because the radiation is precisely focused on the area that needs to be treated.

Can I continue with my normal daily activities when I am being treated with radiation?

It is best to discuss this with your doctor, however, patients generally find that they are able to do light housework or exercise throughout their weeks of therapy.

How long does a radiation treatment take?

Normally from the time you enter the treatment room until the time you leave is about 10 to 15 minutes a day. A whole course of radiation therapy can be anywhere from two to seven weeks.

Will the doctor be giving me the radiation treatments?

No, Radiation Therapists who are specially trained and licensed to administer radiation with a variety of radiation producing machines.

Will the doctor see me during and after my treatments are over?

Your physician or another member of our staff will see you once a week during your treatments. After your therapy has been completed your physician will continue to see you on varying intervals.

What is a Simulator?

One of the first steps that you will take as a radiation therapy patient is called 'Simulation'. Simulation is a dress-rehearsal for your actual radiation therapy sessions. The simulator is a machine that helps your physician plan to direct the radiation beam so that damage to normal, healthy tissues is kept to a minimum. Marks will be put on your skin, either in marker, stickers or tattoos. The marker may come off on your clothes, so wear something old to your simulation appointment. These marks will be reinforced so that they stay on during the length of your treatment.

What is a Block?

A block is a special piece of metal that may be made for your radiation sessions. Radiation cannot get through the blocks. Blocks are designed to protect healthy tissue from exposure to radiation. Blocking can be done from inside the treatment machine or the radiation therapist will place the block that has been made for you into the treatment machine before each session.

Will I need a device to help me hold still during my treatments?

Before you receive your treatments, you may be fitted for a mask, a mold or a cast. The mask, generally used with head and neck cancer patients, fits over your head so that your head rests in the exact same position for every treatment. If you are being treated in another area of your body your pelvis, for example you may be fitted for a cast that is placed on the treatment table. You simply lie in the cast for each treatment session this holds your body in the same position each time. It is important that you receive your radiation in the same spot with each treatment. Your radiation oncologist will decide if a mask, mold or cast is necessary for your specific treatment.

What will happen during the treatment?

Most patients receive their treatments through the method called 'external beam radiation'. One type of machine that delivers the radiation is called a 'linear accelerator'. As you lie on the table, a radiation therapist moves the head of the machine to where it needs to be for proper delivery of the radiation. You will be alone in the room when the machine is turned on; however, the radiation therapist can watch you through a camera to make sure you are safe and comfortable. There is also an intercom system for communication if necessary.

Will I feel anything when I receive my radiation treatments?

You will not feel or see anything when you receive your radiation it is a quick and painless process. You may hear a slight buzzing sound when the machine is turned on. The whole process, from entering the treatment room until you have finished your treatment, usually takes 1015 minutes.

Will I be radioactive?

No. Patients who receive external beam radiation treatment are not radioactive.

What kind of side effects can I expect

Your body tissue is trying to repair itself as the radiation is trying to destroy the tumor, so you will most likely experience some fatigue during your therapy. This is normal. Depending on the location of your treatment, you may notice some 'tanning' or 'sunburn' on your skin or soreness of the tissues. Discuss these side effects with your doctor. Side effects will be specific to the area that is treated. These side effects will start to subside shortly after you have completed your treatment.