In our first installment on treating cancer with radiation we took a look in to exactly what radiation therapy was, how it worked, and how treatment is planned and delivered. In today’s installment we will look deeper into what patients can and cannot doing during treatment, how long treatment sessions take, what to expect, and potential side effects.
During treatment are there particular things I should or shouldn’t do?
It is hard to believe however, life as normal can continue while you receive radiation therapy. In fact, the less interruption to your overall schedule, the better. Try to think of radiation as you would any other appointment, don’t make it any more important than any other task in your daily life. Taking the importance away helps to ease anxiety. Consider the following when planning treatment:
Radiation therapy is performed using a linear accelerator. Some Skin tumors require a superficial x-ray unit, however for the most part radiation is delivered using a LINAC system. You will be required to lay still while on the table/couch underneath the linear accelerator while the treatment is occurring. You will feel nothing at all during the procedure. Many times, you don’t even know that treatment has occurred. A myth has circulated that you will be radio active after radiation therapy however this is incorrect. There is not a possibility of this at all.
Treatment can range from a single treatment, one time to multiple treatments a week for several weeks. This depends on a number of different factors including the type of cancer, where it is located, and how it is responding to treatment. Treatment is most often done during the week. The duration of your session will vary as well depending on the LINAC system that is used, and duration set in your treatment plan. Certain linear accelerators operate faster than others and certain cancers require slow and steady treatment. Your radiation oncologist will go over your specific case when reviewing your treatment plan.
During treatment it is important to drink plenty of fluids while eating regularly. A small, balanced meal several times a day will help with energy loss. It is also important to keep up on your regular, daily hygiene regimen. Try to avoid extreme foods of any nature, too spicy, too hot, too cold, and so on are not desirable when receiving treatment. It is also important to avoid extreme sun exposure during radiation as your skin will be more sensitive to burns.
What side effects should I be prepared for?
Radiation therapy provides a localized treatment which means that any side effect will depend on where it is received. You may experience the following:
Nausea: Depending on where treatment is given you may feel nauseous during or after treatment. (This could also be nerves) Whatever the case symptoms can easily be treated with the use of anti-nausea medication.
Diarrhea: As with nausea, diarrhea can be treated with medicine. Depending on severity a dietician can help prepare your diet to prevent future occurrences.
Sore Throat/Mouth: If you are having treatment done on your mouth or throat you can experience some tenderness. Your oncologist will offer suggestions to help prevent chewing and swallowing difficulties.
Increased Urination: Treatment in the lower abdomen and pelvic region can lead to frequently needing to relieve yourself. To prevent discomfort be sure to stay well hydrated by drinking extra water throughout the day. Take note of drastic changes which could be signally an infection verse side effects from treatment.
Hair Loss: This too is localized to the treatment area. Hair loss may occur on your chest, arms, legs, face, and head depending on where the radiation treatment is performed.
Can I continue to work?
As stated earlier, keeping your routine as normal is possible is key. Of course, each treatment plan is different, and your oncologist may recommend rest after treatment. If this is the case, you will want to follow their specific instructions. Once treatment is finished any side effects and symptoms should subside within a few weeks.
Will I need to follow up?
After radiation therapy is performed you will need to follow up with your physician. In most cases, the first time you meet after treatment will be between four and six weeks. This is not true in all cases and therefore it is important to work with your doctor to make these arrangements at the time of or before your last treatment of radiation.
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