If there is one thing that all cancer patients have in common, it’s questions.
And it only stands to reason that answers to these questions are the first step in your healing process. We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions and their answers to help you begin to understand the fight that lies ahead, as well as the treatments we use to combat cancer.
Radiation Therapy FAQs:
What is radiation therapy?
Radiation is a special kind of energy carried by waves or a stream of particles. It can come from special machines or from radioactive substances. When radiation is used at high doses (many times those used for X-ray exams), it can treat cancer and other illnesses. Special equipment is used to aim the radiation at tumors or areas of the body where there is disease. The use of high-energy rays or particles to treat disease is called radiation therapy. Sometimes it’s called radiotherapy, X-ray therapy, electron beam therapy or irradiation.
Does radiation therapy hurt?
Receiving external radiation treatments is painless, just like having an X-ray taken.
How much does radiation therapy cost?
Treatment of cancer with radiation can be costly. It requires very complex equipment and the services of many healthcare professionals. The exact cost of radiation therapy will depend on the type and number of treatments needed. Most health insurance policies cover charges for radiation therapy. CARTI is a not-for-profit institution and we treat patients regardless of their ability to pay.
What percentage of cancer patients receive radiation therapy?
Approximately 60% of cancer patients receive radiation therapy. Radiation therapy may be prescribed as the only treatment for the patient, or it may be prescribed in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy.
Why do some people need radiation therapy and not others?
After a diagnosis of cancer, a doctor will consider several factors in determining the course of treatment that will be most successful for a particular patient. These factors include the type of tumor, site of origin and the stage of spread. These factors affect the likelihood of a particular therapy slowing down or stopping the disease process. In some cases, only one specific therapy may be appropriate.
Will I become radioactive after my treatment?
External radiation therapy does not cause your body to become radioactive.
How long does a typical treatment take?
For each external beam radiation treatment session, the patient will be in the treatment room about 15 to 30 minutes, but will be getting the dose of radiation for only about one to five minutes of that time.
What are some of the cancers treated by radiation therapy?
Skin, head and neck, throat, larynx, breast, brain, prostate, colo-rectal, lung, bone, leukemia, among others.
What are the side effects?
Side effects of radiation therapy are most often related to treatment dose and the area that is being treated. Most side effects that occur during radiation therapy – although unpleasant – are not serious and can be controlled with medication or diet. The most common side effects are fatigue, skin changes and loss of appetite.
Doesn’t radiation cause cancer?
Overexposure to radiation can cause cancer in some instances, but for the treatment of cancer, therapeutic radiation is used. Therapeutic radiation uses very limited and targeted amounts of radiation.
What is palliation?
Palliation is the use of treatment to relieve, rather than cure, symptoms caused by cancer. Palliative care can help people live more comfortably.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy (also called chemo) is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells.
How does chemotherapy work?
Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly. But it can also harm healthy cells that divide quickly, such as those that line your mouth and intestines or cause your hair to grow. Damage to healthy cells may cause side effects. Often, side effects get better or go away after chemotherapy is over.
What does chemotherapy do?
Depending on your type of cancer and how advanced it is, chemotherapy can:
- Cure cancer – when chemotherapy destroys cancer cells to the point that your doctor can no longer detect them in your body and they will not grow back.
- Control cancer – when chemotherapy keeps cancer from spreading, slows its growth, or destroys cancer cells that have spread to other parts of your body.
- Ease cancer symptoms (also called palliative care) – when chemotherapy shrinks tumors that are causing pain or pressure.
How is chemotherapy used?
Sometimes, chemotherapy is used as the only cancer treatment. But more often, you will get chemotherapy along with surgery, radiation therapy, or biological therapy. Chemotherapy can:
- Make a tumor smaller before surgery or radiation therapy. This is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.
- Destroy cancer cells that may remain after surgery or radiation therapy. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
- Help radiation therapy and biological therapy work better.
- Destroy cancer cells that have come back (recurrent cancer) or spread to other parts of your body (metastatic cancer).
How does my doctor decide which chemotherapy drugs to use?
This choice depends on:
- The type of cancer you have. Some types of chemotherapy drugs are used for many types of cancer. Other drugs are used for just one or two types of cancer.
- Whether you have had chemotherapy before.
- Whether you have other health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease.
Where do I go for chemotherapy?
You may receive chemotherapy during a hospital stay, at home, or in a doctor’s office, clinic, or outpatient unit in a hospital (which means you do not have to stay overnight). No matter where you go for chemotherapy, your doctor and nurse will watch for side effects and make any needed drug changes.
How often will I receive chemotherapy?
Treatment schedules for chemotherapy vary widely. How often and how long you get chemotherapy depends on:
- Your type of cancer and how advanced it is.
- The goals of treatment (whether chemotherapy is used to cure your cancer, control its growth, or ease the symptoms)
- The type of chemotherapy
- How your body reacts to chemotherapy
You may receive chemotherapy in cycles. A cycle is a period of chemotherapy treatment followed by a period of rest. For instance, you might receive 1 week of chemotherapy followed by 3 weeks of rest. These 4 weeks make up one cycle. The rest period gives your body a chance to build new healthy cells.
Can I miss a dose of chemotherapy?
It is not good to skip a chemotherapy treatment. But sometimes your doctor or nurse may change your chemotherapy schedule. This can be due to side effects you are having. If this happens, your doctor or nurse will explain what to do and when to start treatment again.
How is chemotherapy given?
Chemotherapy may be given in many ways.
- Injection. The chemotherapy is given by a shot in a muscle in your arm, thigh, or hip or right under the skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or belly.
- Intra-arterial (IA). The chemotherapy goes directly into the artery that is feeding the cancer.
- Intraperitoneal (IP). The chemotherapy goes directly into the peritoneal cavity (the area that contains organs such as your intestines, stomach, liver, and ovaries).
- Intravenous (IV). The chemotherapy goes directly into a vein.
- Topically. The chemotherapy comes in a cream that you rub onto your skin.
- Orally. The chemotherapy comes in pills, capsules, or liquids that you swallow.