FAQ/Frequently Asked Questions About Getting the Best Cancer Care

We’ve put together a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions and answers regarding your treatment. If for some reason you do not find the information you are looking for here, please do not hesitate to contact us directly. We are here to help.

Radiation Therapy – What to Expect

There are various steps in the radiation therapy process that patients should be aware of:

 

Consultation

During the consultation, you will meet with a radiation oncologist that works closely with other physicians and medical professionals to coordinate the best possible plan of care for each patient. This appointment typically takes an hour to an hour and a half.

The doctor will take a complete medical and family history, discuss current medications, review your medical records and cover any additional questions you may have. A physical examination will also be conducted. During this consultation, treatment options will be discussed with you in detail. The doctor will also discuss the potential side effects of radiation treatment. If additional testing is necessary, it will be arranged at this time.

You are encouraged to bring a family member or other support person with you to your consultation appointment. This time can be used to ask questions and voice concerns. It's a good idea to bring a list of questions you would like to ask at the time of your visit. We also encourage patients to take notes during their consultation to refer back to if necessary.

If radiation therapy is a treatment option you choose to proceed with, you will be scheduled for your treatment planning session or simulation, and will be given additional information and instructions to take home with you.

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Simulation

After your consultation, you will return for a treatment planning simulation. This appointment typically takes between 45 minutes and one hour. If there are any special instructions you will need to follow prior to coming to this appointment, they will be given to you at the time of your consultation.

During the simulation appointment, the physician and radiation therapist will work together to plan your treatment. The simulations are completed on-site in our clinic using our departmental CT-scan machine. The therapist will position you on the treatment table and create custom device specific to your body that will help to immobilize you to help you maintain the exact same position throughout your daily treatments. It is essential that radiation treatments be precisely targeted; therefore, it is important that you remain as still as possible during treatment.

Marks may be drawn on your skin to outline the treatment area and a CT scans will be taken to assist in planning your treatment. These scans are different from the diagnostic scans you may have had, because these will be done while you are aligned in your customized treatment position.

After your simulation is completed, the information is sent by special computers to the physicists and dosimetrists who will work with your physician to formulate a treatment plan specific to your needs. This complex planning usually takes five to seven days. Before you leave, you will be given the information on when to return to our clinic any special instructions.

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First Day/Block Verification

Typically, the first treatment will take a little longer than your regular daily treatments, and will be used to take x-rays to verify that what was planned during simulation is reproduced exactly. You will meet the radiation therapists who will be treating you through the course of your daily treatments and a physician may come to the treatment room to check the set up and make minor adjustments if necessary. Small permanent tattoos, the size of a freckle, may be placed under your skin as reference points for the therapists to line you up for treatment each day. Usually only 20 to 30 minutes are needed on this day. You will be given a schedule of all of your treatment dates and times before leaving this appointment.

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Daily Treatments

Once a week during your treatment course, you will be seen by your radiation oncologist. These "on treatment visits" usually fall on the same day each week, following your daily treatment. Please plan to be in the department longer on these days.

If, at any time during your treatment, you have a question or concern, please do not hesitate to ask. Our therapists are always available to you and they will help to determine if you need to see a physician.

During the course of your treatment, you may experience side effects from the radiation. You can learn more about possible associated side effects in Frequently Asked Questions. Please bring these to the attention of the therapist or physician so they can monitor them and provide you with specific instructions.

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Follow Up

When treatment concludes, your radiation oncologist will continue to closely follow-up with you. Patients are typically seen one month following treatment so that the physician can continue to monitor any side effects that you may have experienced.

For many months, you may continue to experience subtle changes as a result of your treatment. Therefore, it is very important for you to continue with your follow up appointments, and contact our office with any questions or concerns you may have.

Additionally, your radiation oncologist will continue to work with your medical oncologist and/or primary care physician to ensure you maintain good health.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is radiation therapy and how does it work?
What types of cancer can be treated with radiation?
Will I feel the radiation or will it hurt?
Can someone come to my treatments with me or will I be alone during my treatments?
How often will I get radiation treatments?
What should I know about the risks and side effects of radiation therapy?
Can I continue my regular routine/activities while undergoing radiation treatments?
How often will I see the doctor?
What if I miss a treatment?
How many treatments will I have to have?
I know some patients receive radiation and chemotherapy at the same time. If I do, where will I receive my chemotherapy?
Should I call every day to confirm my appointment?
Will you notify me if my appointment is canceled (due to bad weather, etc.)?
After I complete treatment, will that be the last time I visit the cancer center?
What do I need to know about follow-up care?
What should I watch for after my treatment is complete?

 

What is radiation therapy and how does it work?

Radiation therapy is a treatment of cancer and other diseases that works by damaging the DNA in cancer cells, which disables the cells from reproducing and growing. The radiation beams are pinpointed directly at the location of the cancer cells which causes them to die off, thus shrinking the size of the tumor.

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What types of cancer can be treated with radiation?

Different types of cancer require different treatment approaches. Radiation is often used to treat cancers of the breast, bone, lung, brain, head and neck, skin, liver, colon (colorectal), pancreas, esophagus, prostate, cervix, and endometrium. Some types of lymphomas as well as some forms of distant metastatic disease can also be managed with radiation treatment.

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Will I feel the radiation or will it hurt?

External beam radiation treatments are painless. It is very similar to having an x-ray taken. You should feel absolutely nothing when the treatment is delivered. The treatment table can be a little uncomfortable, but the treatment itself should be pain free.

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Can someone come to my treatments with me or will I be alone during my treatments?

Friends or family are welcome to accompany you to your treatments, however they will be asked to wait in the reception area while the treatment is administered. Physically you will be able to function normally and should be able to drive yourself home from your appointments if you chose to do so. While you must be alone during the time your treatment is administered, there are audio and video monitors that ensure the therapists that are performing your treatment can see and hear you at all times. If you need any assistance during your treatment, speak up. The radiation therapists can stop the treatment at any time to attend to your needs.

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How often will I get radiation treatments?

External beam radiation is delivered in multiple daily treatments called “fractions”. Usually, the treatments are administered on a daily basis, five days per week, allowing you to rest on the weekends. Each daily appointment typically takes approximately 15-20 minutes, but the actual treatment only lasts a few minutes. We try our best to make your daily appointments convenient for you. If you find it necessary to change your treatment time, please ask one of the radiation therapists.

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What should I know about the risks and side effects of radiation therapy?

The risks and side effects that can occur with radiation therapy depend on the type of cancer, the dosage being delivered, and the part of the body being treated. Radiation that involves the head and neck may cause sore throat, hair loss, and loss of appetite. Radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area to treat liver, colon (colorectal) pancreas, prostate, or GYN cancers may cause diarrhea. The most typical side effects of radiation treatment include: fatigue, loss of appetite, or skin irritation.

Many patients worry about the risk of losing their hair during their radiation therapy treatment course. Hair loss will only happen in the area that is being treated. For instance if the brain, or head and neck are being treated, the patient should expect to have some hair loss in the treatment area.

A common misconception is that radiation therapy makes you radioactive. This is not true if you are receiving your radiotherapy from a machine. There are other types of radiation such as brachytherapy or insertion of cesium or radioactive sources that require hospitalization and the necessity for you to be in a protected room until the sources are removed or no longer pose any hazard to family or friends.

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Can I continue my regular routine/activities while undergoing radiation treatments?

Patients are encouraged to continue with their normal routines while undergoing treatment. Most patients continue with their full-time occupations and/or leisure activities with no issues. As previously mentioned, fatigue is a common side effect of radiation therapy, and patients are encouraged to be conscious of their own body and to not over exert their selves. Time to rest will be imperative. Patients are encouraged to get plenty of sleep, and to maintain a healthy diet.

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How often will I see the doctor?

You will be scheduled for a weekly visit with your physician during your course of treatment. However, there is always a physician onsite during treatment hours and if you find it necessary to visit with a physician, you will be allowed to do so.

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What if I miss a treatment?

You will be scheduled for a certain number of treatments based on your specific disease. It is extremely important that you receive all of your prescribed treatments. Therefore, if you miss a day, it must be made up and your last day of treatment will be extended.

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How many treatments will I have to have?

The duration of your treatment course will depend on the type of cancer, and where it is located. No two courses are the same, and each patient’s course of treatment is customized to their specific treatment needs. The numbers below are meant to be used as a guideline only and are averages of multiple sites across the country. These numbers are to be used as a reference point only, as treatment courses may vary greatly.

Bone – 10 fractions

Lung – 25 fractions

Metastatic Brain – 10 fractions

Brain Primary – 27 fractions

Head and Neck – 31 fractions

Skin – 22 fractions

Liver – 23 fractions

Colon (colorectal) – 25 fractions

Pancreas – 20 fractions

Metastatic disease – 10 fractions

Prostate – 40-44 fractions

GYN – 26 fractions

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I know some patients receive radiation and chemotherapy at the same time. If I do, where will I receive my chemotherapy?

In most cases, your chemotherapy will be given in your medical oncologist’s office or at a local hospital.

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Should I call every day to confirm my appointment?

No, there is no need. Once you are scheduled for treatment, your appointment time is yours.

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Will you notify me if my appointment is canceled (due to bad weather, etc.)?

Yes, this is why we ask for both your work and home phone numbers.

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After I complete treatment, will that be the last time I visit the cancer center?

No. Approximately three to six weeks after your last treatment, you will return for a follow-up appointment. Thereafter, you will return as needed for office visits with your doctor. At these appointments, the doctor will perform a physical exam and may order scans or other tests, if needed.

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What do I need to know about follow-up care?

Patients who have completed radiation therapy need to continue, at least for a short while, some of the special care used during treatment.

If you experienced skin irritation during treatment, this could persist for several weeks after treatment is completed. You should continue to be gentle with the skin in the treatment area until it has healed. We recommend using a good skin moisturizer for local skin irritation.

You may find that you still need extra rest while your healthy tissues are rebuilding. Keep taking naps as you need to, and try to get extra sleep at night. It may take some time after treatment to regain your strength, so don’t try to resume a full schedule of activities right away.

If you followed a special diet during your treatment for nausea or diarrhea, you may need to continue the diet for a time after the treatments have stopped.

If you need any special instructions, your doctor will tell you when you finish your treatment course.

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What should I watch for after my treatment is complete?

After treatment, you’re likely to be more aware of your body and notice slight changes in how you feel from day to day. Your doctor will want you to report any symptoms.

If you have any of the problems listed below, contact us right away:

  • A pain that persists, especially if it is always in the same place
  • Persistent lumps, bumps or unusual swelling
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent fever or cough
  • Unusual rashes, bleeding or bruising

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