Frequently Asked Questions
Will I become radioactive after receiving external radiation treatment?
No. Neither you nor your clothing will become radioactive, and it is perfectly safe for you to be around your family and loved ones.
What happens during my treatment?
Before starting the actual treatment, you will change into a gown. The therapists then set up and position the equipment in the treatment room. During this time, you will be asked to lie on the treatment table beneath the radiation therapy unit. The therapists will ensure that you are safe and comfortable while they align you in the proper position. Once you are positioned properly, it is important that you remain as still as possible and that you breathe normally. Sometimes a special immobilization device is used to decrease movement and improve accuracy.
The therapists will leave the room during the few minutes of your treatment but they will observe you closely on the closed-circuit monitor. The intercom system is always “on” allowing you to talk to the therapists, if necessary.
During treatment, you may hear sounds or see a red light. These merely indicate the equipment is on. At the end of the treatment, the therapists will assist you off the treatment table and direct you to the dressing area.
How long will my daily treatment take?
Although the treatment itself may take only a few minutes, preparation time varies depending on the complexity of your treatment set-up. Please plan on spending at least an hour for your first appointment and approximately 30-40 minutes thereafter.
Can I miss a treatment?
To receive maximum benefit from therapy, it is essential that you receive all your prescribed radiation treatments. If you cannot report for a scheduled appointment, please notify the therapist. Missed appointments are made up, but it is essential you complete your treatments within a reasonable time, as treatment may be less effective if extended over a long time period.
If you have a special scheduling need, such as a conflict with another doctor’s appointment, please speak with the therapist a day or two in advance. We will make every attempt to accommodate your scheduling needs.
Sometimes your radiation oncologist may prescribe a treatment “break.” This gives normal tissues a chance to recover from the effects of radiation.
Does the treatment hurt?
Radiation treatments do not hurt at all. The treatment is painless.
Will I experience side effects from treatment?
Any side-effects you may experience depend on the amount and frequency of radiation as well as the anatomic area that is treated. Side effects vary from person to person due to individual sensitivity to radiation.
Before treatment begins, the radiation oncologist and nurse will discuss with you any side effects that may occur and what you can do to control or relieve them. It is important to remember that most side effects are temporary. They generally subside within a few weeks after treatment, although some may take longer to resolve.
Most patients experience fatigue at some point during the course of therapy. It may persist for a few weeks after the completion of therapy. Please remember the fatigue is a usual side effect of radiation and is not an indication of progression of disease. People often mistakenly believe that nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and hair loss are universal side effects of radiation. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may occur when the abdomen is radiated. Hair loss will probably occur in the area of treatment. Scalp hair or beard will likely fall out if the scalp, mouth or throat is radiated. The size of the radiation field and the dose of radiation determine whether you will have these side effects.
What should I do if these reactions occur?
Report any reactions to the radiation oncologist, nurse or therapists before your treatment. There are many comfort measures and medication available to relieve these side effects.
Will radiation affect my skin?
For many treatments, there are no skin reactions. For others, the skin exposed to radiation may become red, itchy, or tanned. In some circumstances, blisters may form. These reactions are temporary, and disappear within a few weeks after completion of therapy. Recommended care of skin exposed to radiation:
Keep the irradiated skin clean and dry. Cleanse with mild soap and water, pat dry. Avoid vigorous rubbing or massaging.
Avoid wearing tight clothing that could rub, chafe, or otherwise irritate your skin. Cotton fabrics are better than synthetics next to your skin.
Do not use heating pads, heat or sun lamps, hot water bottles or ice packs on the treated area.
Do not expose the treated skin to sun. Wear protective clothing over the treated area. Sunscreen does not provide enough protection.
Do not apply deodorants, cosmetics, lotions, powders, petroleum jelly, or alcohol-containing preparations to the irradiated skin. If you have any questions about a particular skin preparation, ask your nurse.
Are there any restrictions on my activities?
You are encouraged to carry on your normal daily activities as much as possible, without feeling overstressed. Many people continue to work full-time without experiencing adverse effects. If you feel you cannot continue working, please talk to your physician and/or nurse. Try to balance your daily activities with periods of rest if necessary.
Do I need a special diet?
Depending on your specific treatment area and side effects, you may need to modify your diet. In general, you should eat a well-balanced diet that is high in protein and calories. A high protein, high calorie diet will help you maintain your weight and will provide the nutrients necessary for normal tissue to recover. A dietitian is available to help you with any special needs.
Will extra vitamins help?
When feeling tired many people want to take vitamin supplements. We advise our patients not to take supplementary antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C, and E, selenium and beta carotene. Radiation is an oxidant, and we are concerned that taking extra antioxidants concurrently with the radiation may decrease the effectiveness of the treatments. One multivitamin tablet per day is permissible.
What about driving?
Radiation is usually given on an outpatient basis, and most people are able to drive themselves to therapy. In some cases, you may need to arrange for a friend or relative to drive you.
Will I be treated on holidays?
We are usually closed on national holidays. However, in cases where this would negatively impact the effectiveness of the treatment, special arrangements are made for treatment on holidays.
Why do the radiation oncologist and hospital bill separately?
The law requires all charges from hospital-based physicians, such as radiation oncologists, be issued separately. You should expect to receive several separate statements after your treatment is completed.
These charges cover many aspects of your care, such as consultation, treatment planning, administration of treatment, and follow-up visits. Most insurance plans cover the rest of radiation therapy. If you have any questions, please contact our financial counselor at (714) 992-3000 ext. 3825 or 5110.
How do I reach someone after-hours?
Occasionally you may need to speak with a physician after-hours or on weekends. If you do, please call (818) 609-2171. Keep this phone number with you at all times. When you call, please have the following information ready to give to the answering service:
- Your name
- Facility where you are being treated
- Your physician’s name
- Your concern or problem
- The phone number where you can be reached
- The phone number of your pharmacy
- The radiation oncologist on-call will call you back as soon as possible.