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Radiation Therapy

Does radiation therapy hurt?

No—radiation therapy does not hurt while it is being given.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is a treatment for cancer that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and stop them from spreading. Low doses of radiation are used in common activities such as X-rays of your teeth or bones.

When is radiation therapy used?

Radiation therapy may be used at different times during your cancer treatment and for different reasons:

  • Before surgery, to shrink a cancerous tumor (neoadjuvant therapy)
  • After surgery, to stop the growth of any remaining cancer cells (adjuvant therapy)
  • In combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy, to destroy cancer cells
  • In advanced cancer to alleviate signs and symptoms caused by the cancer

What types of radiation therapy are there?

The Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center uses several different types of radiation. For more information, please visit our Radiation Therapy pages.

Is radiation therapy safe?

Radiation therapy is a well-proven treatment for cancer and new advances have made it safer and more effective than ever. However, with all medical therapies, potential side effects are possible.

What are the possible side effects of radiation?

Side effects can occur with radiation therapy because the high doses of radiation used to kill cancer cells may also damage healthy cells in the treatment area. Side effects are different for each person, with some people having more and others barely noticing any. Side effects may be more severe if you also receive chemotherapy to treat your cancer.

The side effects occur within the region of the irradiation (local-regional effect).

Most side effects occur gradually, usually beginning to appear by the second or third week into treatment. They are temporary, but some may continue for weeks or months after your treatment before they subside. Talk to your radiation therapy team about your chances of having side effects and let them know if you have any problems.

Many people who get radiation therapy experience skin changes and some fatigue. Other side effects depend on the part of your body being treated and may disappear after about two months of the completion of your treatment. Skin changes may include dryness, itching, peeling, or blistering. These changes, which are generally temporary, occur because radiation therapy damages healthy skin cells in the treatment area. You will need to take special care of your skin during radiation therapy.

During radiation therapy, your body will use up more energy than it normally does, causing feelings of fatigue. Additionally, the stress of coping with a serious illness, trips for treatment and the effects of radiation on the body all can cause fatigue. It is common for fatigue to last for weeks or months after your treatment has been completed, after which it will begin to improve.

Will having radiation therapy make me lose my hair?

Hair loss generally only occurs at the site of the radiation therapy and is usually temporary.

How should I prepare for radiation therapy?

Please see our Preparing for Radiation Therapy Treatment page.

How often will I get radiation treatments?

Your daily treatments will probably be scheduled Monday through Friday. No treatments are given on weekends or holidays. The Radiation Therapist will try to make your daily appointment schedule as convenient as possible. A typical treatment is about 5 to 15 minutes. However, please plan on 20-30 minutes for the entire daily process.

What if I am sick and have to miss a treatment?

Call 203-575-5555 and let our front office team know that you are ill and will not be in for your simulation or treatment. 

Help, I am stuck in traffic and am going to be late for my treatment, what should I do?

If it is safe to do so, call 203-575-5555 and let our front office team know you are in traffic.

Is it OK to bring someone with me? Can they come with me into the treatment?

Yes, please feel free to bring someone with you for company and support. They will not be able to go into the treatment with you but can wait for you in our comfortable waiting areas.