Radiation Therapy - FAQ

on May 22, 2013
What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy uses radiation beams to kill cancer cells in your body. Sometimes the goal of radiation is to slow the growth of a tumor, and sometimes it's done to help alleviate pain from the cancer site. Your radiation oncologist should tell you what the goals of your personal therapy is. Radiation is usually done in a hospital setting because of the high doses of radiation being delivered, and is usually pretty quick.

Is radiation therapy dangerous?
Radiation therapy, for those who truly need it, is safe. There are side effects that are possible, but your oncologist has chosen radiation therapy as part of your treatment because they believe that the benefits outweigh the negatives. As you make decisions about your radiation oncologist and treatment site, make sure you feel comfortable with the physician and staff members. You may also inquire about their certification and licensing status. The better your treatment team, the safer you will be.

My doctor suggested that I consider brachytherapy. What is that?
Brachytherapy is a type of radiation treatment. Instead of lying on a platform while beams from a machine are directed toward your cancer site, your doctor will perform a simple procedure to insert one or more small radioactive seeds near the cancer site. Sometimes these are removed after a few days, while others may remain there for much longer. Brachytherapy is an option for many kinds of cancers, but is most common among patients with prostate, skin, cervical or breast cancer.

What are the side effects of radiation? Are they similar chemo side effects?
Some patients don't experience any side effects from radiation therapy, but for those who do, the side effects include fatigue, skin changes and loss of appetite. Skin changes are usually burn related, much like sunburns. Aloe is one of the best ways to soothe radiation burns. Other side effects are more specific to the cancer site. For example, if you are receiving radiation therapy to your throat, you may have throat pain and difficulty eating.

Will I be radioactive after treatment?
No, radiation therapy does not cause you to be radioactive. For those undergoing brachytherapy, there is even more concern that they may be radioactive, but the seeds are designed to exude very low doses of radiation that only reach the cancerous areas nearby. If you are undergoing brachytherapy and have additional concerns about what you can and cannot do during treatment, you should talk to your radiation oncologist or treatment team.