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Our staff understands the uncertainty and fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis. From the first visit, our staff and physicians work together to help patients regain a sense of security and confidence. We spend time with each patient to explain the planning and treatment involved in their individual radiation therapy, answer questions and share important information. This includes written information specific to their individual care that patients and families can review later at home.

The following frequently asked questions are intended to provide some general information about radiation therapy.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Doctors may treat patients with machines that project radiation into the body from the outside (external beam radiation) or by introducing materials called radioisotopes into the body (internal radiation, interstitial radiation, brachytherapy or implant radiation). The types of radiation used to treat cancer include x-rays, gamma rays and neutrons.

How does radiation therapy work?

Radiation particularly affects cells that are growing and multiplying. Because cancer cells reproduce more frequently than normal cells, they are more likely to be damaged by radiation. Normal cells are also affected by radiation, but they tend to recover from the effects of radiation. Also, special care is taken to make sure that, wherever possible, normal tissue is not exposed to radiation. The radiation doses are very exactly measured and doctors use sophisticated computer images to aim the radiation directly at the cancer cells while sparing normal tissue.

How is the radiation therapy given?

Radiation is aimed from machines outside the body (external beam radiation) or is introduced into the body via materials called radioisotopes. This kind of internal radiation is called interstitial radiation or brachytherapy. Radioisotopes are placed in or near the tumor or in the area of the cancer cells. Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance that circulates throughout the body.

Is radiation therapy ever used in combination with chemotherapy or surgery?

Radiation may be the only treatment, or it may be used in combination with surgery or chemotherapy. It may be done before surgery to reduce the size of a tumor to make removal easier, but radiation therapy is more often done after cancer surgery. It may also be used with chemotherapy. It depends on the type of cancer being treated

Who gives radiation therapy treatment?

Radiation therapy at Chesapeake Potomac Cancer Center involves a team of highly trained, experienced and certified specialists, led by a doctor who specializes in and is board certified in radiation oncology. This team uses sophisticated computer images to precisely define where the tumor or cancer cells are. They use these images to help them place or project the radiation exactly where it needs to be to kill the cancer while sparing normal tissue. In addition to the radiation oncologists, the therapy team members include board certified physicists, dosimetrists and senior radiation therapists, each with more than 10 years experience.

How long does the treatment take?

The first treatment usually takes about 30-45 minutes, somewhat longer than the usual 10-15 minutes, due to additional accuracy and safety procedures. We try to arrange your daily treatment to fit your schedule, which will be discussed with the therapists, who are responsible for the treatment machine schedule.

Treatments are usually given once daily, Monday through Friday. On the average, patients can expect a 10 - 15 minute visit each day. Actual treatments usually take 4 minutes or less, but 15 minute appointments are scheduled to allow for set-up, clothing changes, and “port films”. Treatment courses can be as short as one day or as long as 8 weeks, the average treatment course lasting from two to six weeks.

Are there risks involved?

There are risks involved in treating any disease. The potential side effects of your radiation therapy will be thoroughly discussed with you by your radiation oncologist and nurse. Every precaution is taken to spare normal tissue and reduce the possibility of side effects. It should be noted that many people complete radiation therapy with little or no side effects.

For more detailed information about cancer, go to our Additional Resources/Links page.

(This information is meant to provide general information only. You should always talk to your radiation oncologist or nurse for information and advice.)

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