Radiation Oncology Patient Guide

two radiation oncology nurses stand in hallway

Request an appointment at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center Radiation Oncology by calling 843-792-9300 to begin the process of determining whether you are a candidate for treatment. Based on the initial conversation, we will schedule a personal consultation with one of our exceptional physicians and a decision will be made on whether treatment is right for you.

The information and resources below will help you understand and navigate the different steps if you move forward with treatment.

What to Expect | Side Effects | Follow-Up Care | Patient Resources | FAQs

What to Expect During Radiation Treatment

Your first visit

When you arrive for your consultation appointment with a radiation oncologist, please bring any requested medical records (CT, MRI scans and reports, pathology/biopsy reports) with you unless previously sent to us. It is also important for you to have your insurance cards, including Medicare and any co-insurance cards, as well as your driver’s license or state ID available for our receptionist. We will confirm your benefits, and if needed, obtain any pre-authorization required by your insurance company prior to scheduling any procedure.

Initial steps

CT Simulation

A CT scan is usually required prior to beginning treatment. This is used to develop your customized treatment plan. Some patients may need a soft mesh mask or a molded body cradle to help keep the body still during treatment. The fitting is painless and is completed as part of the CT simulation process. During this process, the therapist will also mark the treatment area on your skin with semi-permanent ink. You should be careful not to wash these marks off.

MR Imaging

Sometimes special imaging procedures, such as an MRI, are needed in addition to the CT scan. This is usually scheduled on the day of, or close to the timing of your CT scan. In some cases it may require you to be in the position of treatment with your custom immobilization devices in place.

Laboratory Studies

Imaging procedures may require the use of contrast material to better delineate the target. In these cases, we need to ensure that your kidneys are functioning well enough to flush the dye out of your body. This is determined with a blood test known as a “BUN” and a creatinine.

Tissue Markers

Depending on your individual case, you made need small tissue markers, known as fiducials, implanted in or near the tumor site. Fiducials help to precisely target the treatment area and are implanted in a brief outpatient procedure. If needed, fiducial placement takes place prior to the CT scan.

Treatment Planning

From the time of CT simulation, it usually takes 10-14 days to be ready to start your radiation treatment. During that time, your physician and their dosimetrist are working to delineate the areas they want to treat, those that they want to avoid and to design the beam angles.

Radiation treatment appointments

Radiation treatment is a painless procedure. A radiation therapist will help you onto the treatment table and fit the mask or body mold as necessary. Similar to having a CT scan or MRI, all it requires is for you to lay still — our machines do all the work. If your treatment plan requires a special procedure, like a breath hold technique, you will be coached through the process. Patients are observed throughout the treatment on closed-circuit television. The treatment can be paused at any time. There is no sedation or anesthesia required.

Your treatment appointment may last 15-30 minutes, but the treatments themselves are usually less than 5 minutes in length. The remainder of the time is spent in ensuring that you are in the correct treatment position. You can select your favorite genre of music to be played during the treatment session. Patients are usually free to continue their normal routines after their session.

If your physician prescribes treatment that is fractionated, or divided into stages, you will return every day Monday through Friday for a number of weeks, depending on the treatment plan. While on treatment, you will meet with your physician weekly to discuss how you are feeling and address any side effects that may develop.

Introduction to radiation therapy video

This video will help give you a better understanding of what to expect when receiving radiation therapy for cancer.

Side Effects of Radiation Treatment

Before beginning treatment, your physician will discuss the types of side effects that you may experience, including their duration and severity. Please ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable with the process!

The side effects of radiation treatment vary from patient to patient and will depend on the amount of radiation you receive and the part of your body being treated. Fortunately, most side effects go away with time and there are ways to reduce the discomfort they may cause. Be sure to tell your radiation oncologist, nurse or radiation therapist about any side effects that you notice.

Radiation Treatment Follow-Up Care

Once your radiation therapy is complete, it is important to follow the results of your treatment. This may include regular checkups, lab work and imaging. Many patients return to Radiation Oncology for these visits. Others are followed by the physician who referred them to Radiation Oncology or by a medical oncologist. Your follow-up care will depend on the kind of cancer that you have.

Patients who have had radiation therapy may need to continue some of the special care used during treatment, at least for a short time. For example, you may have skin reactions for several weeks after your treatment ends and you should continue to be gentle with your skin until all signs of irritation are gone.

Radiation Treatment Patient Resources

In addition to the videos below, MUSC Hollings Cancer Center provides a wide range of patient and family resources to help you through all aspects of your cancer treatment.

Brain Tumors | Breast Cancer | Lower Gastrointestinal Cancers | Upper Gastrointestinal Cancers | Gynecologic Cancers | Head and Neck Cancers | Lung Cancer | Prostate Cancer

Radiation therapy for brain tumors


Radiation therapy for breast cancer


Radiation therapy for lower gastrointestinal cancers


Radiation therapy for upper gastrointestinal cancers


Radiation therapy for gynecologic cancers


Radiation therapy for head and neck cancers


Radiation therapy for lung cancer


Radiation therapy for prostate cancer


Radiation Treatment for Cancer: Frequently Asked Questions