What To Expect During Radiation Therapy Treatment

When you arrive at the hospital, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown or robe and wait until your session time, if you are early. If this is your first session, you will be fitted with your personalized immobilization device, or face mask. If you have already had treatment, you will get your mask once you go into the treatment room where you will receive your prescribed radiation.

There are four basic steps to external beam radiation therapy.

1) Application of the Patient Immobilization Device
2) Diagnostic Imaging
3) Image Transfer and Planning
4) Treatment

Download radiation therapy steps PDF »

Radiation treatment itself is not painful in most cases and does not require anesthesia. Typically there is no scarring or disfigurement and little risk of infection, compared to conventional surgery.

It is important that you maintain an ongoing conversation with your entire cancer care team during your radiation treatment to make sure that the therapy is the best possible experience for you. Some things to make sure you keep in mind:

  • Tell someone on your team if you are experiencing any side effects »
  • Tell your doctor or nurse if you are in any pain at any time during the procedure or afterward
  • Follow the advice of your care team after the procedure to make sure you have the best possible at-home experience

Depending upon the delivery method and technique used, patients may experience side effects after the procedure, which may cause discomfort and even pain. Your doctor will discuss any potential side effects with you, depending upon the treatment system used and your overall treatment plan. You may experience a headache, dizziness and fatigue immediately following treatment, so driving is not recommended. Make sure to arrange for transportation home.

Short-term side effects from radiation treatment may include fatigue, mild skin reactions, hair loss, upset stomach, and neurologic symptoms. Most side effects go away soon after treatment is finished. Also, radiation treatment is usually not recommended for children younger than five because of the high risk of damage to their developing brains. Longer-term side effects of radiation depend on how much healthy tissue received radiation therapy and include memory and hormonal problems and cognitive (thought process) changes, such as difficulty understanding and performing complex tasks.

You may be able to go back to work on a full- or part-time basis after your radiation therapy or during your therapy if you have more than one session. Your ability to work will depend upon how you feel and may change throughout the treatment journey. You may want to discuss your options with your employer prior to your treatment to make sure you have a plan in place before you begin treatment.