What to Do Before Radiation Therapy

If you and your doctor have decided that radiation therapy is the right option for you, you will begin with an extended meeting with your doctor or nurse to prepare. During this meeting, you will have a physical exam, talk about your medical history and potentially have some imaging tests done. You and your doctor can discuss external beam radiation therapy, the benefits and side effects during this meeting.

By informing yourself as much as you can before the meeting, you will feel more confident about your options and what will happen during the therapy and how to make your recovery as manageable and positive as it can be.

Get to know your full cancer care team, also called your radiation therapy team. This multi-disciplinary team usually consists of a radiation oncologist, nurse practitioner, radiation nurse, radiation therapist, and others like a dietician, physical therapist and social worker.

Prior to treatment, you will also meet with a radiation oncologist and radiation therapist to define the treatment area using scans. They might also put permanent marks – dots of colored ink – on your skin to mark the treatment area.

Most importantly, the team includes you and your role is very important. The best way to prepare for treatment is to increase your knowledge of the procedure and follow the guidelines set by your cancer care team.

It helps to keep a journal or notebook throughout your entire journey. You can record all your questions and answers as well as your schedule for appointments, meetings, treatment schedule, side effects, and other notes you want to make. Some patients find it very helpful to keep a detailed calendar of doctor and/or treatment appointments. Having someone with you for your appointments also helps ensure that all the information that you receive is retained and documented and offers very important emotional support too.

Ask questions so you understand exactly what will happen before, during and after the treatment.

  • In what form and how often will the treatment be given?
  • How long will each treatment take?
  • How long with the entire course of treatment last?
  • Who will administer my treatment?
  • What will it feel like to get treated?
  • Will there be tests during my treatment to determine if it is working?
  • Are there any activities I should or should not do while I’m going through treatment?
  • How can I tell if treatment is working?
  • Is the machine noisy?
  • What happens when treatment finishes?
  • Can I drive to and from my treatment?
  • Will I need someone to stay with me at my appointments?
  • Can I go home right away or do I wait and if so, how long?

Talk about any concerns you may have regarding your treatment.

  • How early to I need to arrive?
  • Does it hurt to have the immobilization device molded to my back?
  • Will I have more pre-operative images taken on the day of my treatment?
  • Will I be able to talk during treatment?
  • What happens if I move during treatment?
  • Are my eyes protected during treatment?
  • Will I see the radiation beam during treatment?
  • How safe is radiation treatment?

You should plan ahead and arrive on time for all your radiation sessions.