One of the most effective weapons in the war against cancer is radiation therapy as it delivers high-energy beams directly to a specific target. The American Cancer Society estimates that 2 out of 3 cancer patients will receive some type of radiation treatment as part of or as their entire treatment regimen.
Radiation therapy is can be given either with a curative intent (that is, with the hope that the treatment will cure a cancer, either by eliminating a tumor, preventing cancer recurrence, or both) OR it can be given with palliative intent (that is, to relieve symptoms and reduce the suffering caused by cancer).
Varian Medical Systems, a major manufacturer of radiation therapy medical equipment, has created an informative Patient Information Portal containing information on different types of radiation therapy, what to expect when you visit a radiation oncologist and much more.
Below are some questions they suggest that every cancer patient ask their radiation oncologist. (I’ve added a few of my own to this list as well.) Be prepared to ask questions because depending on the doctor that you are meeting with, he or she may or may not be proactive in giving you all the information you need to really understand what’s going on. Understanding the goal of radiation as it pertains to your specific treatment plan and how it will affect your daily life are key. Bring these and other questions you may have to your appointment. Take it from someone whose been there- it really does help.
Questions to Ask Your Radiation Oncologist
- What type of cancer do I have and what stage is it in?
- What are my treatment options?
- What is the purpose of radiation treatment for my type of cancer?
- What is the probability that radiation therapy will work for me? It if works, what are the chances that the cancer will come back?
- What are the chances that the cancer will spread if I do not have radiation therapy?
- How and when will you know if I am cured of cancer?
- How will the radiation therapy be given? Will it be external beam or internal (brachytherapy)?
- How many treatments will I receive per week, and for how long?
- What side effects should I expect and how do I manage them?
- Will I also need other treatments, such as chemotherapy, surgery, or hormone therapy? If so, when will I receive them, and in what order?
- Is there a clinical trial for which I might be eligible? If there is, should I participate in it? What are the benefits and risks of doing so?
- Can I drive myself to and from the treatment facility? Do you recommend I bring a friend or family member?
- Will I need a special diet during or after my treatment?
- Will I be able to continue my normal activities during treatment? If not, how soon after treatment will I be able to resume them? Work? Sexual activity? Aerobic exercise?
- Will radiation therapy affect my sex life or my ability to have children?
- Can I smoke or drink alcohol during my course of treatment?
- Is it safe to take vitamins during treatment?
- How can I expect to feel during treatment and in the weeks following radiation therapy?
- What are reasons I should call you at night or on a weekend?
- After my treatment is completed, how often will I need to return for checkups?
- What are some of the support groups I can turn to during treatment?
- If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, ask about Interoperative Radiation Therapy and Prone Radiation.
- Is Proton Beam Therapy an option for your type of cancer as it can deliver higher doses of radiation with little, if any, side effects?
Also check out RadCARE.org– another fantastic resource created by the Scott Hamiliton CARES organization to help cancer patients and their families better understand their care- specifically as it pertains to radiation- by explaining technical medical information in simple terms. They also have a very helpful section on Managing Side Effects.
Read more about the wide variety of available cancer support services.