Who Is On My Radiation Therapy Team
A highly trained medical team specialized in giving radiation therapy will work together to provide you with the best possible care. This team may include the following professionals:
Radiation oncologist. This type of doctor specializes in giving radiation therapy to treat cancer. A radiation oncologist oversees radiation therapy treatments. They work closely with other team members to develop the treatment plan.
Radiation oncology advanced practitioners. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are also called advanced practitioners. This type of provider meets with patients and will collaborate with the radiation oncology team, including a supervising radiation oncologist.
Radiation oncology nurse. This type of nurse specializes in caring for people receiving radiation therapy. A radiation oncology nurse plays many roles in your treatment, including:
Answering questions about treatment
Monitoring your health during treatment
Helping you manage side effects of treatment
Medical radiation physicist. This professional helps design treatment plans. They are experts at using radiation equipment.
Dosimetrist. The dosimetrist helps your radiation oncologist calculate the right dose of radiation.
Radiation therapist or radiation therapy technologist. This professional operates the treatment machines and gives people their scheduled treatments.
Learn more about the oncology team.
Side Effects Of Radiation For Breast Cancer
Radiation treatments today are very precise, resulting in little harm to surrounding skin or healthy tissues. Many women tolerate radiation therapy to the breast very well and report few lasting side effects.
That said, after a few weeks of radiation, patients may experience:
- a sunburn-like condition on the skin
- changes in the color of the skin
- swelling and heaviness in the breast
Our radiation oncologists will explain in detail what to expect and when side effects are likely to appear. They can also prescribe a topical cream to minimize any changes in the skin. The fatigue women experience during treatment varies greatly, but in general women can remain active in all of their normal daily activities. Most women are able to continue working throughout the course of their care.
Other side effects can appear months or years after treatment has ended. These are called late effects.
Late effects of breast cancer radiation are not common but may include:
- inflammation in the lung, especially for women who have also received chemotherapy
- injury to the heart when there is significant heart exposure
- lymphedema in the arm, especially when radiation therapy is given after lymph node dissection
What Happens During External
What happens during your radiation therapy treatment depends on the kind of radiation therapy you receive. External-beam radiation therapy delivers radiation from a machine outside the body. It is the most common radiation therapy treatment for cancer.
Each session is generally quick, lasting about 15 minutes. Radiation does not hurt, sting, or burn when it enters the body. You will hear clicking or buzzing throughout the treatment and there may be a smell from the machine.
Typically, people have treatment sessions 5 times per week, Monday through Friday. This schedule usually continues for 3 to 9 weeks, depending on your personal treatment plan.
This type of radiation therapy only targets the tumor. But it will affect some healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. While most people feel no pain when each treatment is being delivered, effects of treatment slowly build up over time and may include discomfort, skin changes, or other side effects, depending on where in the body treatment is being delivered. The 2-day break in treatment each week allows your body some time to repair this damage. Some of the effects may not go away until after the treatment period is complete. Let your health care team know if you are experiencing any side effects so they can help relieve them. Read more about the side effects of radiation therapy.
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If Youre Getting Radiation Therapy To The Head Or Neck
People who get radiation to the head and neck might have side effects such as:
- Soreness in the mouth or throat
How to care for your mouth during treatment
If you get radiation therapy to the head or neck, you need to take good care of your teeth, gums, mouth, and throat. Here are some tips that may help you manage mouth problems:
- Avoid spicy and rough foods, such as raw vegetables, dry crackers, and nuts.
- Dont eat or drink very hot or very cold foods or beverages.
- Dont smoke, chew tobacco, or drink alcohol these can make mouth sores worse.
- Stay away from sugary snacks.
- Ask your cancer care team to recommend a good mouthwash. The alcohol in some mouthwashes can dry and irritate mouth tissues.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt and soda water every 1 to 2 hours as needed.
- Sip cool drinks often throughout the day.
- Eat sugar-free candy or chew gum to help keep your mouth moist.
- Moisten food with gravies and sauces to make it easier to eat.
- Ask your cancer care team about medicines to help treat mouth sores and control pain while eating.
If these measures are not enough, ask your cancer care team for advice. Mouth dryness may be a problem even after treatment is over. If so, talk to your team about what you can do.
How to care for your teeth during treatment
Radiation treatment to your head and neck can increase your chances of getting cavities. This is especially true if you have dry mouth as a result of treatment.
What Kind Of Skin Problems Can Radiation Therapy Cause
The way external radiation therapy affects your skin is similar to what happens when you spend time in the sun. It may look red, sunburned, or tanned. It may also get swollen or blistered. Your skin may also become dry, flaky, or itchy. Or it may start to peel.
Be gentle with your skin:
- Don’t wear tight clothing over the area that’s being treated.
- Don’t scrub or rub your skin. To clean it, use a mild soap and let lukewarm water run over it.
- Avoid putting anything hot or cold on the area unless the doctor tells you to.
- Ask your doctor before you use any type of ointment, oil, lotion, or powder on your skin.
- Ask about using corn starch to help relieve itching.
- Stay out of the sun as much as possible. Cover the area getting radiation with clothing or hats to protect it. Ask the doctor about using sunscreen if you must be outdoors.
- If youâre having radiation therapy for breast cancer, try not to wear a bra. If that isn’t possible, wear a soft, cotton one without underwire.
- Don’t use any tape, gauze, or bandages on your skin unless the doctor tells you to.
Your skin should start to feel better a few weeks after therapy ends. But when it heals, it may be a darker color. And youâll still need to protect yourself from the sun even after radiation therapy has ended.
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When To Seek Medical Attention For Side Effects
Before treatment, patients should consult with their care team about the potential side effects and late effects related to their specific area of radiation therapy. Those who experience any other noticeable or irregular changes in physical appearance or physiological state during or after radiation treatment should contact their doctorsthe earlier, the better.
Expert cancer care
Active Surveillance And Watchful Waiting
If prostate cancer is in an early stage, is growing slowly, and treating the cancer would cause more problems than the disease itself, a doctor may recommend active surveillance or watchful waiting.
Active surveillance. Prostate cancer treatments may seriously affect a personÃ¢s quality of life. These treatments can cause side effects, such as erectile dysfunction, which is when someone is unable to get and maintain an erection, and incontinence, which is when a person cannot control their urine flow or bowel function. In addition, many prostate cancers grow slowly and cause no symptoms or problems. For this reason, many people may consider delaying cancer treatment rather than starting treatment right away. This is called active surveillance. During active surveillance, the cancer is closely monitored for signs that it is worsening. If the cancer is found to be worsening, treatment will begin.
ASCO encourages the following testing schedule for active surveillance:
A PSA test every 3 to 6 months
A DRE at least once every year
Another prostate biopsy within 6 to 12 months, then a biopsy at least every 2 to 5 years
Treatment should begin if the results of the tests done during active surveillance show signs of the cancer becoming more aggressive or spreading, if the cancer causes pain, or if the cancer blocks the urinary tract.
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What Happens During Internal Radiation Therapy
Internal radiation therapy is also called brachytherapy. This includes both temporary and permanent placement of radioactive sources at the site of the tumor.
Typically with this treatment approach, you will have repeated treatments across a number of days and weeks. These treatments may require a brief hospital stay. You may need anesthesia to block the awareness of pain while the radioactive sources are placed in the body. Most people feel little to no discomfort during this treatment. But some may experience weakness or nausea from the anesthesia.
You will need to take precautions to protect others from radiation exposure. Your radiation therapy team will provide these instructions. The need for such precautions ends when:
The permanent implant loses its radioactivity
The temporary implant is removed.
What Are Common Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy
Early and late side effects may include any of the following:
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Pain in the area of the body that is being treated
- Skin changes such as a sunburn or red skin
- Hair loss in the area receiving radiation
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or indigestion
- Sores, pain, or dryness in your mouth
- Difficulty urinating
- Sexual dysfunction
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Discussing The Side Effects Of Radiation Treatments
When people think of cancer and its treatments, many immediately think about chemotherapy and the potential side effects like hair loss and vomiting.
But there are plenty of patients that receive radiation to treat their cancer either in conjunction with or instead of chemo. Radiation treatment also can result in unpleasant long and short-term side effects that can take quite a toll on cancer patients.
Remember that the side effects of radiation can vary depending on the amount of radiation, the patient, and the part of the body receiving the radiation treatment. Here, we will look at some of the general side effects of radiation therapy for cancer.
Easing Worries About Radiation Therapy
Its normal to worry about possible side effects of radiation therapy.
Talk with your health care provider about your concerns.
Your health care provider may be able to suggest a hospital social worker, patient navigator, psychologist or support group to help ease anxiety related to radiation therapy .
Learn more about support groups.
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Radiation For Metastatic Breast Cancer
For women with breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, radiation can be used to help with symptoms in the affected area. Radiation is particularly useful for cancer that has spread to the bone and is causing pain. Radiation can help relieve pain in approximately 80 percent of women.
Effects On The Lung Or Heart
Sometimes after treatment to the breast or chest wall area, part of the lung behind the treatment area can become inflamed, causing a dry cough or shortness of breath. This usually heals by itself over time.
More rarely, fibrosis of the upper lung can occur, causing similar side effects.
Although particular care is taken to avoid unnecessary radiotherapy to the tissues of the heart, if radiotherapy is given on the left side you may be at risk of heart problems in future.
Breath hold technique is thought to reduce the risk of any possible damage to the heart and lungs.
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What Are The Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy
There are a few main side effects of radiation therapy. Most symptoms, like hair loss, are only experienced in the area of the body being irradiated. Others, like fatigue, are more common regardless of the area being treated. Knowing as much as possible about the different side effects and what to expect may help put patients more in control and at ease.
Fatigue: Cancer fatigue is different from physical weakness. Cancer fatigue feels more like how you feel after a long day, only it’s caused by the treatment. Also, the level of fatigue differs in each person. The larger the area being treated, the more fatigue the patient generally feels.
To manage fatigue, patients should:
- Balance rest and activity. Carve out time each day to find time to relax vs. time to do light activities, such as taking a walk or gardening.
- Create a nutrition plan. Make sure to have plenty of water and a balanced diet of protein, carbs, fat, vitamins and minerals to keep energy levels up.
- Find mental health support. Speaking with a counselor or psychologist may help to manage fatigue or mental health concerns often associated with cancer treatment.
Skin irritation and burns: Radiation therapy may cause dry skin, itchiness and, sometimes, radiation burns. In other cases, the skin may become sensitive to sunlight and become red.
To manage skin irritation, patients should:
Nausea and vomiting: Radiation therapy may make you feel queasy and lightheaded, and in rare cases, it may cause you to vomit.
Less Common Bladder Symptoms After Radiation
- a small amount of urine leakage especially if you laugh, sneeze, exercise, or cough
- pain when passing urine
- passing blood clots
- difficulty passing urine, because the radiation treatment can make the tube that drains urine from the bladder narrower. This is known as a stricture.
Contact your doctor if any of these symptoms occur, because treatment is available to alleviate them.
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Radiation Can Cause Severe Fatigue
Extreme fatigue is one of the most common and debilitating side effects of radiation therapy. It is more than being tired. After a few weeks of radiation treatment to any body part, patients usually begin to feel physically and emotionally exhausted. Why?
Unfortunately, as with chemo, radiation attacks some healthy cells in addition to cancerous ones. As radiation treatments continue, more healthy cells are destroyed, resulting in even more exhaustion that is not relieved by getting more rest. As treatments progress, fatigue worsens and can begin to interfere with daily activities.
The good news is that the fatigue eventually disappears after radiation treatments end.
How Long Do Side Effects Last
Remember that the type of radiation side effects you might have depends on the prescribed dose and schedule. Most side effects go away within a few months of ending treatment. Some side effects may continue after treatment ends because it takes time for the healthy cells to recover from radiation.
Side effects might limit your ability to do some things. What you can do will depend on how you feel. Some patients are able to go to work or enjoy leisure activities while they get radiation therapy. Others find they need more rest than usual and cant do as much. If you have side effects that are bothersome and affecting your daily activities or health, the doctor may stop your treatments for a while, change the schedule, or change the type of treatment youre getting. Tell your cancer care team about any side affects you notice so they can help you with them.
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Possible Side Effects Of Ebrt
Some of the side effects from EBRT are the same as those from surgery, while others are different.
Bowel problems: Radiation can irritate the rectum and cause a condition called radiation proctitis. This can lead to diarrhea, sometimes with blood in the stool, and rectal leakage. Most of these problems go away over time, but in rare cases normal bowel function does not return. To help lessen bowel problems, you may be told to follow a special diet during radiation therapy to help limit bowel movement during treatment. Sometimes a balloon-like device or gel is put between the rectum and the prostate before treatment to act like a spacer to lessen the amount of radiation that reaches the rectum.
Urinary problems: Radiation can irritate the bladder and lead to a condition called radiation cystitis. You might need to urinate more often, have a burning sensation while you urinate, and/or find blood in your urine. Urinary problems usually improve over time, but in some men they never go away.
Some men develop urinary incontinence after treatment, which means they cant control their urine or have leakage or dribbling. As described in the surgery section, there are different levels and types of incontinence. Overall, this side effect occurs less often with radiation therapy than after surgery. The risk is low at first, but it goes up each year for several years after treatment.
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Stiff Joints And Muscles
Radiotherapy can sometimes make your joints and muscles in the area being treated feel stiff, swollen and uncomfortable.
Exercising and stretching regularly can help to prevent stiffness.
Tell your care team if joint or muscle stiffness a problem. They may refer you to a physiotherapist, who can recommend exercises for you to try.
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Change In Breast Shape Size And Colour
If youve had radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery, the breast tissue on the treated side may feel firmer than before, or the breast may be smaller and look different.
Although this is normal, you may be concerned about differences in the size of your breasts, or worry that the difference is noticeable when youre dressed.
You can discuss this with your breast surgeon to see if anything can be done to make the difference less noticeable.