Frequently Asked Questions
- Does radiation therapy hurt?
- What are the possible side effects of radiation therapy?
- Will radiation therapy make me radioactive?
- Who administers my treatment?
- What is treatment simulation?
- How often will I get radiation treatments?
- Why do treatments last more than five weeks?
- Why must I remain alone during treatment?
- Will I be able to have sex?
- What about my other medications?
- Visit the "What to Expect" page for videos on radiation therapy, its side effects and follow-up care.
Does radiation therapy hurt?
No. However, the treatment table can be a little uncomfortable. If you do experience pain during treatment, tell the radiation therapist. He or she will turn off the machine and come into the room. The radiation stops when the machine is turned off.
What are the possible side effects of radiation therapy?
Side effects are usually limited to the radiation site. Patients receiving radiation in the abdomen may have nausea, while radiation to the pelvis may trigger diarrhea. Other possible side effects include:
- Red, itching and peeling skin in the treatment area
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss in the treatment area
For more information watch the radiation side effects video on our "What to Expect" page.
Always let your health care team know about any side effects you may be experiencing, even if they seem minor.
Will radiation therapy make me radioactive?
No. You can continue to enjoy the same contact with family and friends without fear of exposing them to radiation.
If you are hospitalized for insertion of internal radioactive sources, you will stay in a protected room until the source of radiation is removed. If you need this type of radiation, your doctor will explain it in detail.
Who administers my treatment?
The radiation oncologist is responsible for designing your treatment plan, including the amount of radiation you will receive and the total number of treatment days. The radiation oncologist will also manage any medical problems that may develop during your treatment.
A radiation therapist delivers the prescribed treatment and will help you before, during and after treatments. All radiation therapists at MD Anderson are licensed, certified professionals who have completed extensive education in radiation treatment delivery and patient care. A radiation therapy nurse works closely with the radiation oncologist to help you throughout treatment.
What is treatment simulation?
If radiation therapy is part of your cancer treatment plan, an appointment will be made for your treatment planning session, or simulation.
The simulation visit takes one to three hours. The radiation therapist will position you on the treatment table and take X-rays, CT scans and other images to confirm the area to be treated. Once the images are approved, the radiation therapist will mark reference points, either directly on your skin or on a plastic face mask.
Actual treatments will start within the next 3-7 days. More X-rays will be taken to verify treatment fields. As the treatment progresses, the treatment area and marks may change.
How often will I get radiation treatments?
Your daily treatments will probably be scheduled Monday through Friday, allowing you to rest on weekends. Your daily appointment schedule will be as convenient as possible. Your radiation therapist will notify you of any holidays on which you will not receive treatments.
Why do treatments last more than five weeks?
The large doses of radiation necessary to treat cancer cannot be given at one time because of the severe side effects they would cause. On average, the course of treatment for radiation therapy takes 5 to 7 weeks. This allows your body to better tolerate the effects of the radiation.
Why must I remain alone during treatment?
If the radiation therapists stayed in the treatment room with every patient, they would be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Even though they are not in the treatment room, patients are constantly monitored by intercom and video camera. If you ever need assistance during your treatment, speak up. The radiation therapist can stop the treatment and attend to your needs.
Will I be able to have sex?
You may have sex if it is comfortable for you. You are not radioactive, and your partner is in no danger from the radiation treatments or the cancer. If you are a woman of childbearing age and have sex during treatment, you must use some type of birth control. Your doctor can help you decide what kind of birth control is best for you.
If you need to talk with someone about other sexual health concerns, you may schedule an appointment with a social worker.
What about my other medications?
Provide your doctor or radiation therapy nurse with a complete list of prescription or over-the-counter medicines you are currently taking. He or she will review your current medications, which usually can be continued throughout your treatment. Your primary care doctor will still prescribe any medications you are taking for problems other than cancer.