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Radiation Oncology FAQs

Q: How does radiation therapy work?
A: Radiation therapy is a treatment in which a machine, usually a linear accelerator, uses X-rays to deliver high energy beams that are precisely aimed at the tumor site in order to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.

Q:  How is radiation therapy different from chemotherapy?
A:   Radiation therapy is localized radiation aimed at a tumor site; only the area that the beam penetrates will be affected. Chemotherapy is a chemical agent that is administered into your blood stream or given orally. It is systemic, meaning that your whole body may be affected by the agents administered.

Q: Will my hair fall out?
A: Since radiation therapy is “localized” only the area that we are treating is affected. If we treat your head, your hair may fall out where the beam is aimed. If we are treating an area away from your head you will not experience any hair loss.

Q: Am I radioactive after my treatment?
A: No, unless you have received radioisotope therapy.

Q: How will I feel after treatment?
A: Many patients don’t notice any change in the way they feel during the course of treatment. Patients, for the most part, can still drive, work and go about their daily lives during treatment. Radiation is cumulative, so over time some people may experience fatigue. Other side effects vary depending on the disease and treatment site. All potential side effects are reviewed prior to treatment.

Q: Can I still go to work and exercise like I usually do?
A: Yes, continue your normal activity unless otherwise directed.

Q: How long is each treatment?
A: Each day you come for treatment, please plan on being in the department for approximately 30 minutes. We allot 15 minutes for each patient’s treatment. The actual time the machine is on varies for each patient, and it is usually less than two minutes total of “beam on” time.

Q: What can I eat?
A: Unless the physician and nurse give you a specialized diet at the time of your consultation, continue to follow a normal diet. Your health, including your weight, is monitored on a weekly basis during your treatment and if your diet needs to be changed or supplemented a plan will be provided.

Q: Why do I have to come every day?
A: The effects of radiation to the tumor are cumulative and more effective when given over time. This also decreases the potential and severity of side effects.