Frequently asked questions
For your convenience, we have included a list of frequently asked questions, which address common concerns of our patients. This information is intended for information purposes only, and should not be relied upon in place of an individual consultation or information our providers have given.
Answer : Radiation therapy, sometimes called radiotherapy, effectively treats cancer by using high-energy rays to pinpoint and destroy cancerous cells in your body. Although radiation therapy is similar to having an X-ray taken of a broken bone, the dose of radiation in cancer treatment is stronger and is given over a longer period of time. Many forms of radiation are available. The best choice for you depends on the type of cancer you have, the extent of the cancer, and its location.
Cancers are growths of abnormal cells. Different types of cancer react to radiation in different ways, so treatments vary. Also, it takes time for the body to get rid of dead cancer cells. After you have completed treatment, months often pass before the tumor is completely gone.
With careful planning, radiation can be directed to the cancer and away from most normal tissues. This means you may receive treatment on more than one side of your body or from different angles. You may also need more than one type of radiation, which may require the use of more than one machine.
For your initial visit, the Radiation Oncology team meets with you in the Radiation Oncology department.
All aspects of the treatment will be explained and the Radiation Oncologist will review your medical history with you and explain treatment and possible side effects. At times, additional testing may be required before you can proceed with treatment. Upon the completion of your consult, the receptionist will make any appointments needed at the time and contact you at a later date to set up your initial simulation. Time is needed after your consult to prepare for your treatment and receive insurance authorization.
For your follow-up visits, the simulation visit includes seeing your doctor and setting up your treatment plan. This visit in the Radiation Oncology Center will take from one hour to three hours. You will be asked to sign a consent form agreeing to your treatment. Actual treatment time on subsequent visits takes only a few minutes, but preparation may add 15 to 20 minutes.
You will not be radioactive after getting external radiation therapy, so don’t worry about hurting your family and friends.
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 to you in detail.
A health care team will work together to administer your radiation therapy. The team is led by a radiation oncologist, a doctor who specializes in radiation therapy. This is the person referred to as “your doctor” throughout this text.
A radiation therapist actually delivers the prescribed treatment and will assist you before and after your treatments. A radiation therapy nurse works closely with the radiation oncologist to help you throughout your course of treatment. The health care team also includes other physicians, dosimetrists (specialists who use computers to help design treatment plans), social workers, dietitians, and chaplains.
You will see your doctor in the Radiation Oncology Center or in your primary clinic. An appointment will be made for a planning session (simulation). This visit includes seeing your doctor and setting up your treatment plan. Be prepared to spend one to three hours in the Radiation Oncology Center. You will be asked to sign a consent form agreeing to your treatment.
Simulation is done to locate the exact area to be treated. The radiation therapist will move you into a position that will be the same during your actual treatments. During the simulation, the radiation therapist will take a CT scan of the area that needs to be in the treatment field. As the treatment progresses, the treatment area may change as directed by your doctor.
On each treatment day, you will be asked to put on a gown or remove some clothing to expose the treatment area.
Although the actual treatment will last only a few minutes, you may spend 15 to 20 minutes getting ready. You will be helped onto a treatment table. Your position on the table will be the same for each treatment.
Once you are positioned, do not move until the treatment is finished.
After the radiation therapist has helped position you on the table, he or she will leave the room, monitor you by closed-circuit television, and be in contact with you through an intercom.
Keep in mind that the treatment machines are large and sometimes noisy while in use. Just relax and breathe normally. You should not feel any pain.
If you need something or are in pain, tell the radiation therapist. He or she can turn off the machine immediately and come into the room. The radiation stops when the machine is turned off.
Your treatments will probably be scheduled every weekday, Monday through Friday, allowing you to rest on Saturday and Sunday. The treatment cycle usually takes from two to six weeks.
Your daily appointment schedule will be as convenient for you as possible. Your radiation therapist will notify you of any holidays on which you will not receive treatments.
Your doctor will examine you and review your progress once a week. This scheduled check-up will take longer than the treatment visits. The nurses who see you during the check-up will work closely with you and the doctor to help you manage any side effects you may have. This is also the proper time to request refills for any medications that you may need to manage side effects.
The planning process takes time, allowing for the best treatment plan and allowing time for quality assurance. You will receive a call from the staff as to when you will be scheduled for your verification simulation.
You may also experience a wait for equipment downtime. If the machine were to be inoperable for the treatment, you will be notified as soon as possible to minimize inconvenience. If you are waiting more than 30 minutes, please check in at the front desk.
Side effects depend on the part of the body being treated. Most go away a few weeks after treatment is stopped.
Red, itching, and peeling skin in your treatment area. This usually happens after about four weeks of radiation therapy. Report any skin problems to your nurse or doctor. Refer to the next section for skin care information.
Fatigue: You may feel more tired than usual. Make sure to get plenty of rest, and do not overexert yourself
Loss of appetite: You may not feel like eating. This side effect is common if your abdomen or mouth is in the treatment area. If so, try eating several small meals or snacks (dry toast, crackers) throughout the day, instead of three big meals. A dietitian can give you more tips on eating during treatment
Hair loss: Hair loss may occur, but only in the area being treated.
You will receive specific information about your type of radiation therapy. This information will include what to do in case of problems and how to manage your specific side effects. Be sure to tell your nurse if you have any side effects.
Toward the end of your treatment, the radiated skin may become pink and itchy. In some cases, the skin will blister and flake like a sunburn.
What to do:
Leave the marks on your skin until all of your treatments are finished. In some cases, you may rinse the treatment area with warm water, but do not rub or scrub off the marks. Your nurse will talk with you in more detail about care of your treatment area.
Do not use soap on the marks.
Wear loose-fitting, cotton clothing that does not rub the treatment area.
Do not put any source of heat or cold on the treatment area, and do not let the sun shine on the area.
If your skin itches in the treatment area, do not scratch it. If this is a problem for you, tell your nurse or doctor. Some medicines may relieve the itching.
Do not put anything (cream, lotion, powder, makeup) on the treatment area unless your doctor or nurse says it is okay to do so. After your treatment is complete, your doctor may give you an ointment to soothe the skin.
Before shaving any part of your treatment area, check with your nurse or doctor. If you are allowed to shave, use an electric shaver.
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 want or need to talk with someone about other sexual health concerns, you may schedule an appointment with a social worker. Coping with the diagnosis of cancer and its treatment can be difficult. The radiation therapy health care team is here to help you. Please tell your nurse or doctor about your concerns.
Eat a well-balanced diet. Every day, choose foods from these groups: breads and cereals; meats, eggs or beans; milk or milk products; vegetables and fruits.
Try to eat enough food to keep your weight at the same level as before treatment. Your body needs more calories now, so you may need to eat more than usual. A dietitian from the radiation therapy clinic can help you set up a food plan.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you lose or gain 10 or more pounds.
Drink at least eight cups of fluid every day. Fluids may include water, gelatin, ice pops, juices, iced tea, soup, and milk.
If you notice your weight going down, try to drink fluids that are high in calories, such as milk shakes or nutritional supplements.
At MemorialCare website, you can watch the video Good Nutrition and the Radiotherapy Patient. You or your nurse may call us and ask to view the videotape.
Get some exercise and plenty of rest. It is okay to continue your regular activities as long as you take rest periods and do not overexert yourself. Your doctor will talk with you about how much exercise you should get.
Try to sleep at least six hours at night, and take naps during the day if you can.
Tell your doctor or radiation therapy nurse if you are taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines. He or she will review your current medications, which usually can be continued throughout your treatment. Your local doctor will still prescribe any medications you are taking for problems other than cancer.
You may continue to buy your routine medications at your local drugstore. The hospital pharmacy dispenses medication only for the treatment of cancer.
If you or your family has any questions about your care, please ask your nurse or doctor. You may also speak with a social worker.
Being told that you have cancer can affect you and your family in many different ways. Social workers may be able to help you with individual counseling, support groups, community resources, transportation, and housing while you are being treated in the Radiation Oncology Center.
With your help, your radiation therapy team can give you the best care possible.
If you or a family member is experiencing a potential life-threatening emergency (for example, chest pain), call 911.
If you have an urgent care problem (for example, cold or flu), please contact your primary care physician’s office for instructions on how to arrange a same-day office visit.
Have your medical information readily available, including what medications you are currently taking. This information will help the doctor evaluate your health status. Bring your insurance card and the name of your primary care physician, as well as either a social security card, driver’s license or other form of identification.
We realize that some of the words and phrases used in healthcare can be confusing and have provided a quick reference guide below.
Capitation The insurance company pays physicians or medical groups a certain amount each month for each patient.
Co-payment An amount of money the insured person pays each time he or she sees a doctor, gets a prescription, or has a medical service rendered.
Enroll A term to describe the process of signing up with a managed care health plan.
Fee For Service Paying for medical services when they are provided or when a bill is received. Payment can be in cash or as an insurance reimbursement.
HMO Plan A benefit plan in which you must chose a primary care physician and you must use the physicians who are signed up with that group and HMO for any care or the HMO will not pay for the care.
Independent Physician Association (IPA) An organization in which private-practice physicians agree to work together to negotiate with insurance companies but the physicians run their own offices.
Managed Care A concept of overseeing the use of medical services to keep the cost of providing care low while at the same time keeping the quality of the care high, typically by having the patient go through a primary care physician before seeing specialists, thus ensuring the proper use of specialty care.
Medicare A government-funded insurance program that covers people over age 65 and some people with certain diseases or disabilities.
Member A person who has signed up with a managed care health plan.
Medical Group A group of physicians who have created an organization devoted to providing medical care.
Open Enrollment A period of time in which a person can change insurance plans offered by his or her employer.
Out of Pocket Any fee paid by the patient; can be a co-payment, deductible or the entire bill.
Point of Service (POS) Plan Members have an HMO and a PPO option. When you need care, you choose to activate either the HMO or PPO option.
Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) Plan The insurance company will give you a list of physicians you can go to and still be covered; if you go to a physician outside of that list, the insurance company might pay for some of the care, but will usually require you to pay a larger amount.
Primary Care Physician A doctor who coordinates the care for a person with managed care insurance. All managed care insurance plans require members to choose a primary care physician or medical group before seeking care.
Referral or Authorization What the primary care physician writes if you need specialized medical care.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a Federal Law enacted to:
Protect the privacy of a patient’s personal and health information.
Provide for the physical and electronic security of personal health information.
Simplify billing and other transactions with Standardized Code Sets and Transactions.
Specify new rights of patients to approve access / use of their medical information.