What To Expect With Radiation Therapy

Diagnosis & Treatment

May 28, 2020

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and radiation therapy is going to be part of your treatment plan, you probably have several questions, including: How does radiation therapy work?


How does radiation therapy work?

Cancer cells divide more rapidly than normal healthy cells, and high doses of radiation can kill cancer cells by stopping them from dividing any further. Radiation can damage normal cells, and most of the time, normal cells will recover better than abnormal cells. Your Radiation Oncologist will use the treatment plan to target the cancer cells while avoiding normal, healthy cells as much as possible.


There are several options for radiation treatment, and your Radiation Oncologist will determine which you will receive based on your individual treatment plan. Since each treatment plan is individualized, not every patient has the same treatment even if they have the same type of cancer. You can expect to spend between 15 to 30 minutes each day for treatment, and you will see the Radiation Oncology physician weekly.


How is radiation therapy used?

Radiation therapy cannot treat cancer that has spread throughout the body. It is used to treat many types of cancer in specific areas of the body, either alone or in combination with other types of treatment. The goals of radiation therapy are to cure or shrink early-stage cancer, to stop cancer from coming back elsewhere or to treat symptoms caused by advanced cancer. 


What should I expect at my first consultation?

Your first appointment, or consultation, will be initiated by a referral from your medical oncologist, surgeon, or other physician directly involved in your cancer diagnosis and treatment. During the first visit, you will meet with the Radiation Oncology physician, who will review your records, examine you, and then discuss with you what role radiation can provide in the treatment of your cancer. You can expect to spend between 1 to 2 hours for this visit.


What are the side effects of radiation therapy?

Like many medical treatments, there are benefits as well as side effects of radiation therapy. How your body responds to radiation may be different than someone else. The side effects can be different for each person. The most common side effects are skin irritation and fatigue, and your treatment team will be able to discuss things you can do to mitigate them both.


What should I expect for follow up care?

After your treatments are completed, your Radiation Oncologist will want to see you for follow-up appointments for a period of time. The Radiation Oncologist will monitor you for any side effects that can sometimes occur long after treatment is finished and your Radiation Oncologist will also assess how you are progressing after treatments. The Radiation Oncologist will provide reports to your referring physician and any other physician that you wish to receive correspondence regarding your care.


If you have more questions about radiation therapy, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page or make a list to bring with you to your next appointment.