Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do I prepare for radiation treatments?
A: Most patients do not need to make any changes to their lifestyle before beginning radiation therapy.
Q: What side effects should I expect?
A: Side effects vary from patient to patient. The most common side effects include tiredness and a skin reaction that is specific to the area targeted for radiation therapy. Doses are very strictly controlled. A radiation oncologist meets with each patient weekly to discuss the side effects of the radiation therapy, and to arrange treatment or medication to eliminate any side effect.
Q: Will my skin burn during radiation therapy?
A: At times, a patient may experience a sunburn-like reaction to the radiation.
Q: How long does a radiation therapy session last, and is it difficult to endure?
A: A radiation therapy treatment typically lasts about 15 minutes (and a course of treatment typically lasts from four to eight weeks). The patient must lie still, and the experience seems essentially the same as undergoing a chest X-ray.
Q: How is radiation therapy different from chemotherapy?
A: Radiation is a local or regional form of cancer therapy. It is applied to the specific area of the body that contains the tumor. By contrast, chemotherapy is given by injection or by mouth and travels throughout the entire body. Both radiation and chemotherapy inhibit cell growth and reproduction but usually do so at slightly different points within the cell reproductive cycles; both therapies can be combined for a greater effect.
Due to the fact that radiation therapy is a local treatment, radiation has advantages over chemotherapy. It is less likely to cause such general side effects as nausea, extreme fatigue, or decrease of blood cell counts. However, radiation therapy cannot treat cancer that has spread beyond the local area.
Radiation and chemotherapy do not really compete against each other. Some diseases lend themselves well to therapy via radiation, others to chemotherapy, while others require a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. Surgery also is an important method of treatment and can be used before or after radiation or chemotherapy.
When used properly, radiation is a very potent tool in the oncologist’s arsenal for arresting cancer growth. It is estimated that at least 50 percent of all cancer patients will need radiation at some point during the course of their illness.