Radiation Treatment for Cancer: Frequently Asked Questions

Patient Guide
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Throughout your treatments, your radiation oncologist will regularly check on your health and the results of your therapy. You may not be aware of changes in your cancer, but you will probably notice less pain, bleeding, or other discomforts you may have had because of the cancer.

Radiation therapy causes hair loss only in the area being treated. For example, if you are receiving treatments to your hip, you will not lose the hair from your head. Radiation to your head may cause you to lose some or all of your hair on your head. After the treatments stop, most patients find that their hair will grow back again.

Radiation therapy will not automatically limit your activities. Your activity level will depend on what side effects you have and how serious they are. Many patients can go to work, keep house and enjoy leisure activities while they are receiving radiation therapy. You should try to do the things that you want to as long as you do not become too tired.

Nearly all patients who receive treatment for cancer feel emotionally upset. It is not unusual to feel depressed, afraid, angry, frustrated, alone and/or helpless. Radiation therapy may affect the emotions indirectly by causing fatigue, but the treatment itself is not a direct cause of mental distress.

Many patients help themselves by talking about their feelings with a chaplain, family member, close friend, nurse, social worker or psychologist with whom they feel at ease. We have a psychologist on staff if you would like a referral. You may want to ask your doctor or nurse about meditation or relaxation exercises that could help calm you.

Sometimes radiation therapy can cause low white blood cell counts or low levels of platelets. White blood cells help your body fight infection and platelets prevent bleeding. If your blood tests show this side effect, your treatment might be delayed for a few days to let your blood counts come back up to normal.

Once you start radiation treatments, your doctor and nurse will follow your progress, checking your response to treatment and overall well being at least once a week. Your doctor will revise your treatment plan if needed. It is very important that you have all of your scheduled treatments to get the most benefit from radiation therapy.

Nearly all cancer patients receiving radiation therapy need to take special care of themselves to protect their health and help the treatment be successful. Follow the eating and skin care tips from your care team and be sure to get plenty of rest. Sleep as often as you need to. Your body will use a lot of extra energy while you are receiving radiation treatment. In general, take extra special care of yourself during this tiring and stressful time.

Absolutely not! Radiation therapy does not cause your body to become radioactive. There is no need to avoid being with other people because of your treatment. In fact, you will probably want to be with those you love and those who can offer you support and encouragement while you are receiving radiation treatments and beyond.

If you are currently driving yourself now and a physician has not suggested for you to stop driving, then by all means, continue to drive yourself if you would like. However, if you start feeling fatigued during your treatments, it is recommended that you ask someone to escort you. If you are having problems with transportation, let one of our nurses know and they will be able to assist you.

Again, we ask that you talk with your doctor, nurse or radiation therapist about any of your questions or concerns. They are the only ones who can give you the correct answers and information about your treatment, side effects, at-home care and other medical concerns you may have.