Possible Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
There is usually no pain associated with radiation therapy. However, depending on the area of your body being treated, you may experience side effects including fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, or skin that looks and feels sunburned. Your radiation oncologist can prescribe medications to help alleviate some of these symptoms. In general, most patients feel well enough during the course of treatment to continue with the majority of their normal activities, including work. To help ensure you feel your best while undergoing treatment, be sure to get adequate rest, drink lots of fluids, and eat a healthy diet to maintain your weight.
Radiation therapy is delivered to a localized area. If the radiation field(s) pass through skin containing hair, then hair loss—usually occurring two to three weeks after starting treatment—may occur. However, hair loss from radiation therapy does not occur in most situations for example, during or after treatment of the lung or prostate). Your radiation oncologist will discuss any questions you may have at the time of your consultation or simulation.
For several weeks following radiation therapy, you should not expose the area being treated to direct sunlight. This is especially important because sunscreen cannot be applied to the treated area while you’re undergoing radiation therapy. Following treatment, it is essential that you apply sunscreen to the treated area to best protect sensitive areas from the sun.
How long will my course of radiation treatments last?
Typically, radiation treatments occur daily, five days per week, with individual treatments lasting only a few minutes each. In fact, patients are usually in and out of the department within 30 minutes. Depending on your disease and the treatment course your physician selects, radiation therapy may continue for a period of anywhere from one to eight weeks.
How often will I see my radiation oncologist while undergoing radiation therapy?
You will have weekly appointments with your radiation oncologist during treatment. In addition, you’ll be monitored daily by the radiation therapists who administer your radiation treatments. Specially trained nurses in the Radiation Oncology Department are also available to help manage your needs and to answer any treatment-related questions you may have.
What happens if I miss a radiation treatment?
It is important for you to attempt to make all of your scheduled radiation therapy appointments. If you need to miss an appointment, please call to reschedule; if your appointment is in Burlington please call 781-744-8780 and if it is in Peabody please call 978-538-4120. For each appointment you miss within your prescribed treatment course, one day will be added to your treatment plan.
Does someone need to come to my radiation treatments with me, or will I be able to drive myself afterward?
Most patients are able to drive after receiving radiation therapy, throughout the course of treatment. However, driving may not be recommended for patients with certain types of cancer, as fatigue and strong pain medications may impair driving capabilities. Your radiation oncologist will be able to talk with you about whether or not you should be driving while undergoing treatment.
For Burlington, reserved parking for radiation therapy patients is available outside the Trump Building (which is an extension of the main hospital building). We recommend you park in this lot because it is a long walk from the main entrance. If you do park in the main garage and enter through the main entrance of the hospital you will be on the 4th floor where you will need to take the West Elevators down to the 2nd floor and follow the signs for the Trump Building. The front desk staff will validate your parking after each patient visit.
For Peabody, use the entrance at the front of the building and look for the Sophia Gordon Cancer Center on the left. Parking at this location is free.
After my radiation therapy treatment course is completed, how long will I have to go to follow-up appointments?
The majority of patients see their radiation oncologist for an extended period following the completion of radiation therapy treatment. Your radiation oncologist, in collaboration with your cancer care team, will determine the appropriate follow-up schedule for you. Your follow-up at Lahey may occur in a multidisciplinary setting, including appointments with physicians from several medical specialties.