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Radiation Oncology FAQs

Here you will find answers to frequently asked questions about radiation treatment at NHO Radiation Oncology. 


What is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy involves using radiation to treat cancer and other ailments. There are many different forms of radiation. One of the most common forms is x-rays, which are used for diagnostic purposes. This same type of radiation, but in much higher doses, is used to treat some forms of cancer.

When is Radiation Therapy Uses as a Treatment Option?

Radiation therapy can be used for a variety of reasons for treatment. Often, the number one goal is to cure the cancer. In order to meet this goal, radiation therapy may be used to:

  • Eliminate tumors that have not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Reduce the risk cancer will return after surgery or chemotherapy by killing small amounts of cancer that may still remain.
  • Shrink the tumor cells before surgery.

Sometimes the goal is to reduce the symptoms caused by cancer cells and to improve your quality of life. When this type of treatment is the focus, it is called palliative care. In this instance, radiation may be used to:

  • Shrink tumors that are affecting your quality of life, such as a lung tumor that is causing shortness of breath.
  • Relieve pain by reducing the size of a tumor.

How Does Radiation Therapy Work on Cancer Cells?

Radiation therapy works by destroying the DNA within cancer cells and destroying the ability of cancer cells to reproduce. When these damaged cancer cells die, the body naturally eliminates them. Normal cells are also affected by radiation, but they have the ability to repair themselves in a way that cancer cells cannot.

Is Radiation Therapy Safe?

Patients have been treated with radiation for more than 100 years. Many technological advances have been made over this time to ensure that radiation therapy is safe and effective in treating cancer.

Your treatments are formulated to focus on treating the cancer and avoid healthy organs adjacent to the cancer. Technology is used to monitor and double-check the treatment machines to make sure that proper treatment is given.

If you undergo external beam radiation therapy, you will not be radioactive after treatment ends because the radiation does not stay in your body. However, if your treatment involved brachytherapy, tiny radioactive seeds will be implanted into your body either temporarily or permanently. Before undergoing this type of treatment, your radiation oncologist would go over any special precautions or instructions that you may need to follow for a short time following treatment.

What is the Difference Between Radiation and Chemotherapy?

Radiation is a local or regional form of cancer treatment. It is applied to the specific area of the body that contains a tumor, unlike chemotherapy which is given by injection or by mouth and travels throughout the entire body. Both radiation therapy and chemotherapy inhibit cell growth and reproduction but usually do so at slightly different points within the cell’s reproductive cycle. For this reason, both therapies can be combined for a greater effect to treat some cancers.

Note that radiation and chemotherapy do not compete against each other. Some diseases lend themselves well to treatment via radiation, others to chemotherapy, while others require a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. Surgery also is an important method of treatment and can be used before or after radiation or chemotherapy.

How do I Take Care of My Skin During Radiation Therapy?

Side effects due to radiation therapy are expected. These are related to the size and location of the area being treated and to the treatment technique prescribed by your physician. We will talk with you on an individual basis so you will know what side effects you can expect with your particular treatment plan. Radiation therapy skin reaction is one of the most common side effects of treatment. We offer a few general suggestions in order to keep the skin in as good condition as possible. We recommend:

  • Keep the area clean and dry.
  • Clean the area with a physician or nurse-approved cleansing agent.
  • Do not apply soap, creams, ointments, or cosmetics to the area unless approved by the doctor.
  • Aloe vera gels (99% – 100% pure and colorless) may be applied as often as needed.
  • Avoid applying any substance to the skin 90 minutes before treatment time.
  • Protect the skin from direct sunlight.
  • Do not use hot water bottles, heating pads, sun lamps, ice packs, or tape on the treatment area.
  • If the underarm is in the treatment field, do not shave or use deodorant (nonaluminum herbal deodorants may be used).
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing over the treatment area when the skin becomes sensitive.

If you are concerned about any reaction you experience during your course of treatment, please bring it to the attention of your doctor or radiation therapist. We want to help you remain as comfortable as possible.

What Types of Cancer Can be Treated with Radiation?

Most types of cancer respond to radiotherapy, including cancers of the prostate, breast, cervix, vocal cords, tonsil, mouth, thyroid, rectum, and skin. Radiation treatments can also be used for palliative purposes, such as decreasing the size of a tumor, reducing pain, and improving the quality of life for patients with tumors that are considered incurable. NHO Radiation Oncology physicians have experience treating all types of cancer and use a multidisciplinary approach. The types of cancer types treated include, but are not limited to:

  • Prostate
  • Breast
  • Lung
  • Brain
  • Skin
  • Gynecological
  • Colon and Rectal
  • Hodgkin’s/Non-Hodgkin’s disease
  • Lymphomas
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Melanoma 
  • Head and Neck
  • Esophageal
  • Pancreatic
  • Anal
  • Kidney
  • Bladder
  • Stomach
  • Testicular
  • Ovarian
  • Thyroid
  • Bone