Q: How does the radiation work?
A: The radiation works by inflicting irreversible DNA damage specifically to cancer cells. While normal healthy cells are able to repair the DNA damage caused by the radiation, tumor cells cannot. Therefore, this leads to selective tumor cell death.
Q: Does radiation affect normal healthy tissues?
A: Radiation does effect normal cells temporarily. This is why acute side effects from radiation such as skin irritation can occur. However, healthy tissues can generally repair the DNA damage. This is also the reason why the acute side effects are largely temporary.
Q: What happens during my treatment?
A: Radiation therapists will bring you into the treatment room and position you on the treatment couch as prescribed during the simulation appointment. If “tattoos” were placed on the skin, they will be used to properly align the radiation beam. The linear accelerator (which generates the radiation) will then deliver the proper amount of radiation prescribed by the radiation oncologist. This entire treatment process should not last more than 15 minutes. The radiation beam is only “on” typically less than 3 minutes.
Q: How many treatments will I need?
A: The total amount of radiation treatments is largely dependent on the type of cancer being treated. A typical course for prostate cancer, for example, is 8 weeks. Breast cancer treatments last 6.5 weeks. The radiation oncologist will outline the treatment course and inform you of your overall treatment time.
Q: Do the radiation treatments hurt?
A: No. Like routine X-rays, radiation treatments are painless.
Q: What are the side effects?
A: The side effects are dependent on the site being treated. The nurse and radiation oncologist will discuss all potential side effects prior to commencing with therapy. Most radiation side effects will resolve several weeks after the last treatment. Universally, fatigue has been recognized as a common side effect from radiation therapy, regardless of the treatment site. The fatigue occurs in nearly 30% of all patients and is quite minor. In general, you can continue to work while on therapy
Q: What should I do if these reactions occur?
A: Report any side effect to the radiation oncologist, nurse, or therapist before your treatment session. They may be able to prescribe medications, creams, or therapies to alleviate your symptoms.
Q: Will radiation burn my skin?
A: This depends on the body site being treated. For breast and head/neck cancer patients, the skin may harbor cancer cells. Consequently, the radiation oncologist will want to deliver full dose to the skin. However, skin will remain intact for most treatment sites.