Patient Center

Guide to Radiation Treatments 

What is radiation therapy and how does it work? 

Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy or radiation oncology, effectively treats cancer by using high energy X-rays to pinpoint and destroy cancerous tissue in the body. Although the use of radiation is similar to having a chest X-ray, the dose of radiation is stronger and is given over a longer period of time. 
  • External beam radiation therapy (the most common method) - A series of daily treatments are administered with a machine called a Linear Accelerator. This device can deliver multiple, converging X-ray beams of high energy radiation to the necessary region of the body needing treatment. 
What can I expect after I am told I need radiation therapy? 

After your initial visit with Dr. Craig Tyree, an appointment will be made for a simulation or radiation therapy planning session. This visit includes working with Dr. Tyree and his technical staff to set up your planned course of treatments. This session can last from 1 to 2 hours depending on the area involved. 

Your first step of planning will involve a CT scan of the region to be treated. At that time, the therapists will place marks on the skin for treatment setup purposes. After the scan is completed and you have left for the day, the staff will then develop a treatment plan specific to you. 

Dr. Tyree and the physics and dosimetry staff will work together to develop the optimal treatment plan. Once this has been established, you will be brought back in to confirm the setup and delivery process. Treatments will then begin after this confirmation day.

What will my daily visits be like? 

After your simulation visits, your daily treatment visits will only last a few minutes. Depending on the area being treated, you may be asked to put on a gown or remove some clothes to allow the treatment area marks to show. Dr. Tyree may request that a blood sample be obtained each week to allow him to monitor your lab results on an ongoing basis while undergoing radiation treatments. Once each week, you will visit with Dr. Tyree after your treatment. Dr. Tyree will review your progress and answer any questions you may have. 

How many treatments will I have? 

Cancer is a generic term that simply means an abnormal growth of cells. There are many different types of cancers, and they respond to radiation in different ways; therefore, treatment courses will vary from patient to patient depending on the type of cancer. This will be determined during the simulation or planning session prior to beginning your radiation treatments. Dr. Tyree will make this determination. 

How often will I receive radiation treatments? 

The standard course of treatment will run Monday through Friday of each week. There will usually be no treatments done on Saturday, Sunday or major holidays. The treatment course will usually range from 3 to 7 weeks. 

What side effects might I encounter during radiation treatments?

Side effects vary from patient to patient. There are many side effects that can occur while undergoing treatment; however, the most common side effect regardless of the site treated is skin irritation. This may appear as red, itching, and possibly peeling skin on your treatment area. Skin irritation usually occurs after the third or fourth week of treatments. You should report any skin problems to your doctor who can prescribe medication to help alleviate the problems that might be occurring as a result of this irritated skin. 

Fatigue and tiredness often accompany radiation treatments. Be sure and get plenty of rest while undergoing treatment. 

Hair loss may occur only if the scalp is being treated. Hair loss will usually begin to occur after the third week of treatment. 

A loss of appetite may occur while undergoing radiation treatments. If this happens, a dietitian may be consulted to assist the patient with his or her diet. If you have a loss of appetite, tell your oncology nurse so this consultation can be arranged. 

The radiation oncology nurse will meet with you to discuss side effects that you may experience as a result of your treatment. This will be done during the first week of treatment. 

Are all radiation treatments the same? 

No. Each patient's treatment is individualized for their specific circumstances. Even if there are two patients who have the same tumor type, the details of treatment may be different. Therefore, your treatment course may be slightly different from someone else who is being treated. 

Remember your treatment course is tailored specifically for you. 

Will I become radioactive? 

No! After your daily treatment has been completed, there is no residual radiation inside of you, so there is no risk to friends or family members. 

Our staff is dedicated to providing you with the highest quality of care. It is important for you to be on time for your daily appointments. Inform your Radiation Therapists if you need to change your appointment time. 
 
Reminders: 
  • Take care of the marks placed on your skin. 
  • You will be seen by Dr. Tyree once a week. He is available to see you anytime during your treatment. 
Barren River Regional Cancer Center is open from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. 
 
Remember: your health and well-being are very important to us, and we are available to help you in any way possible. Never hesitate to ask questions or ask for help.