What to Expect When You Have Radiation Treatment

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

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By: Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology

Radiation is often a treatment option for cancer. While the procedure itself is usually painless, that doesn’t mean that you won’t feel anxious or overwhelmed—or even scared. Those feelings are perfectly understandable, and you should know that you’re not alone in feeling this way.

Knowing what to expect from radiation treatment will help you feel more prepared and less frightened, making the procedure go much smoother for you.

What Happens Before Radiation Treatment?

Before the treatment starts, you can expect several things to occur:

  • First, you’ll meet with your radiation oncologist, who will review your records and perform a physical exam. He or she will also recommend specific tests and help you understand the benefits and risks of radiation therapy. During this meeting, it’s essential to ask any and all questions you might have.
  • The next step is to sign the paperwork that will allow your doctor to perform the therapy.
  • Before treatment starts, you will undergo a simulation session. The simulation will depend on the type of cancer you have, and you will likely get scans like an MRI or a CT scan. Depending on the area being treated, we may also put a mark on your skin so the radiation treatment team will know where to aim the device. Depending on the type of cancer, you may be immobilized during treatment. The great thing is that you can experience all of this during the simulation and ask any and all questions you have. The radiation treatment team will be there to assure you are comfortable with the treatment and emotionally prepared for the real thing.
  • The simulation is typically only one session, but there can be more, depending on the type of cancer and your specific treatment. Afterward, a specific plan will be determined, which your team will follow during treatment.

What Happens During Radiation Treatment?

The exact steps taken and timeframe of your treatment depend on the specific procedure you receive, however, you can expect most treatment options to be painless. You’ll generally receive treatments five days a week for one to three weeks.

You’ll meet with your radiation therapy team each visit. At the beginning of each session, you’ll receive the medication you need, and the radiation beam will target the tumor and only slightly affect the surrounding tissue. Each session is generally 5-30 minutes, depending on your treatment plan. Feel free to bring in music to listen to; this pleasant distraction helps the time pass more quickly.

You can expect little to no discomfort from the treatment itself, but you may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Emotional distress
  • Sensitive skin in the affected area

You will typically have a two-day interval between sessions to ensure your body recovers from each treatment. Over the course of your treatment plan, your oncologist will monitor how well it’s going and adjust the plan as necessary. You’ll have a few longer appointments over the course of our treatments to check in with your doctor, but most sessions will involve just your radiation therapy team and be quite quick, to make sure that your treatment plan is as convenient for you as possible.

During treatments, care for yourself by eating healthy food, getting extra rest, treating affected skin with lotions and minimizing your exposure to the sun.

What Happens After Radiation Treatment?

Once your radiation treatment is completed, you will schedule several follow-up appointments with your oncologist to monitor your recovery and note any side effects. Your doctor will monitor how your body has responded to the radiation treatment to determine next steps.

Thousands of men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists with more than 20 years of experience fighting cancer and state-of-the-art cancer equipment. We encourage you to call us at 850-610-3743, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion, so you too can experience the difference.