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.

There are four basic steps to external beam radiation therapy.

1) Patient Setup
2) Data Enrichment / Treatment Plan Review
3) Treatment

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 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, the area of your spine being treated and your overall care plan. You may experience a headache, dizziness and fatigue immediately following treatment, so driving is not recommended. Make sure to arrange for transportation home.

Side effects may happen anytime immediately after treatment and for a few days or weeks afterward. Short-term side effects from radiation treatment may include fatigue, mild skin reactions, hair loss, loss of appetite, upset stomach, and low blood cell counts.

Other short term side effects of radiation depend on how much healthy tissue received radiation therapy and which part of the spine has been treated. If your neck has been treated you may experience changes in your voice or hoarseness if the treatment area is near the voice box, or larynx. If your middle back or thoracic spine is treated, you may experience heartburn, cough, swelling or tenderness of the breast. More severe side effects include scarring of lung tissue and heart issues. If your lower back is treated you may experience indigestion and bloating or gas. More severe side effects include kidney and stomach issues. If your sacral area is being treated you may also experience issues with your bladder and bowels

Longer term side effects can occur long after your treatment has finished and may depend on where on your body you have received the radiation. It’s important to speak to your cancer care team before treatment to understand the side effects that may occur for your particular condition and area of the body being treated