Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is the use of radiation to treat and manage cancer.

Knowing what to expect during and after treatment can help you prepare and reduce any anxiety that you may be feeling. The following information has been put together to help you understand your radiation therapy treatment, and we hope to reduce any concerns you have. For advice specific to your needs and treatment plan, please speak to your treating doctor.

We are here to answer your questions, and to help you feel prepared for your treatment. If you would like more information, you can send us a message and we will have one of our Icon oncologists or nurses come back to you as soon as possible. Alternatively you can contact your nearest Icon centre directly.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is the use of radiation to safely treat and manage cancer. Radiation oncologists use radiation to eradicate cancer cells, reduce their growth or relieve symptoms of cancer.

Radiation oncologists use radiation to eradicate cancer cells, reduce their growth or relieve symptoms of cancer. Radiation therapy works by damaging cancer cells while limiting the impact to healthy cells. It works because cancer cells are more sensitive to radiation than healthy, normal cells. When a small dose of radiation is given each day over several weeks, normal cells can recover from the radiation, but cancer cells cannot. It is typically a painless treatment, similar to having an x-ray, and is only delivered to the part of the body being treated.

How is radiation therapy delivered?

Icon uses the most cutting-edge radiation therapy techniques and technology to deliver pin-point accurate radiation to the tumour. Our technology and expertise allows us to accurately treat all cancer types of various size, type and location.

Radiation therapy treatment can be delivered on its own, or in combination with other forms of treatment, such as chemotherapy, hormones and surgery. It is commonly undertaken as an outpatient service.

Treatment is usually given in daily intervals (Monday to Friday) over several weeks, allowing enough radiation to target cancer cells while providing healthy cells enough time to recuperate. A single course of radiation therapy is unique to each person and their condition. This includes the site and stage of the disease, type of disease, a person’s age and general health. Radiation does not make you radioactive, and it is safe for patients undergoing treatment to be around other people, including children.

Side effects of radiation therapy

People who receive radiation therapy may experience skin dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling. These usually resolve a few weeks after treatment has finished. Another common side effect is fatigue, a feeling of exhaustion that does not improve with rest. Your level of fatigue may depend on whether you are undergoing other treatments, such as chemotherapy. Although most side effects go away after radiation therapy has finished, some long-term effects may occur.

As radiation therapy is localised to an area of the body, you may only experience side effects in this area. Your radiation oncologist and treatment team will discuss the type of side effects you may experience, however it is important to let your treating team know if any effects you notice or that are making you uncomfortable.

Most side effects are temporary and can be treated or managed. At Icon, we are always here to help our patients find ways to manage any side effects that you experience.

  • Skin reaction

Two – three weeks after treatment starts your skin may become red, itchy or irritated. This reaction can last the remainder of your treatment, and usually returns to normal two to four weeks after treatment finishes. Sometimes the reaction can become more intense towards the end of treatment, and increase for up to two weeks after treatment finishes.

  • Fatigue

You may feel tired or lack energy for daily activities during your treatment. You may feel increasingly tired as you reach the end of your treatment. This is a common reaction to radiation therapy and each person is usually affected to varying degrees. Fatigue usually eases a few weeks after treatment finishes. Finding a balance between rest and activity will help you manage.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does radiation therapy make you radioactive?

External beam radiation therapy does not make you radioactive, and it is perfectly safe for you to be with and around other people, including children, throughout your treatment.

Will I lose my hair?

Radiation therapy is a local treatment, meaning it only affects the area of the body where the radiation is targeted. Unless your radiation treatment is targeted at an area where hair grows, such as your scalp or face, you will not lose your hair. People having radiation therapy for breast cancer may find their underarm hair will fall out if it is near the radiated area, however it will grow back in time.

Can I drive after treatment?

Yes, it is safe for you to drive after you receive radiation therapy treatment. However, if you feel unfit or unwell to do so, it’s important to advise your treatment team immediately.

Will radiation therapy affect my fertility?

This depends on where you are having treatment. If you are a woman having radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis, the amount of radiation absorbed by the ovaries will determine the potential impact on your fertility. Radiation to the pituitary gland may also influence fertility, as the pituitary gland normally signals the ovaries to ovulate. Radiation to both testes in men is rare, however if you require this therapy your fertility may be affected. Please speak with your radiation oncologist should you or your partner wish to become pregnant, or if you have fertility concerns.

Does radiation affect pregnancy?

It is important you are not pregnant or become pregnant at any time during radiation therapy, as x-rays for positioning can harm the foetus. If you think you may be pregnant at any time, it is extremely important to discuss this with a member of the radiation therapy team. If you wish to become pregnant after your treatment please discuss this with your radiation oncologist prior to commencing.

Can I father children during radiation therapy?

For men having radiation therapy to their pelvic region, it is advised that you do not father children during treatment. Radiation therapy may damage your sperm, which can lead to birth abnormalities. If you wish to father children after this treatment, please discuss this with your radiation oncologist prior to commencing.

What are the side effects of radiation therapy?

People who receive radiation therapy may experience skin dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling. These usually resolve a few weeks after treatment has finished. A common side effect is fatigue, a feeling of exhaustion that does not improve with rest. Your level of fatigue may depend on whether you are undergoing other treatments, such as chemotherapy. Although most side effects go away after radiation therapy has finished, some long-term effects may occur.

As radiation therapy is localised to an area of the body, you may only experience side effects in this area. Your radiation oncologist and treatment team will discuss the type of side effects you may experience, however it is important to advise of any effects you notice.

Will I feel nauseated?

If you have radiation therapy to your abdominal region, you may get an upset stomach and feel nauseated. This will usually resolve when your course of treatment is completed. If you notice you are feeling nauseated for a prolonged period of time, please inform our team so we can suggest ways to manage this.

How long does radiation therapy treatment take?

Radiation therapy is scheduled over an extended period of time, usually from weeks to months, enabling sessions to be as short as possible and for healthy cells to recover. A treatment session may only last 15 to 20 minutes.

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