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Common Questions About Radiation Therapy

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Common Questions About Radiation Therapy

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Q. Will radiation affect my normal cells?

A. Radiation is a strong treatment for cancer and can sometimes affect normal cells. However, normal cells are not as sensitive to radiation and will usually recover when treatment is finished.

Q. Will anything be done to protect me from excess radiation?

A. The x-ray machine with which you'll be treated has special protections built in to limit your radiation to the specific area outlined. If needed, other areas of your body will be covered by special lead shields.

Q. What will radiation feel like during the treatment?

A. Radiation treatment is like having a regular x-ray; most patients feel no sensation. You may feel warmth or a tingling, but you're not likely to feel any pain or discomfort.

Q. Will I be radioactive after treatments?

A. No. The treatment beam is the only thing that is radioactive when you receive external radiation therapy. Neither your normal tissues nor the cancerous tissues are radioactive during or after treatment. If you have a radiation implant, small amounts of radiation will be emitted. However, once the implant is removed, you are no longer radioactive.

Q. What will my breast look like after treatment?

A. There is no way to predict the cosmetic outcome of this type of treatment for a particular woman. The extent of the initial surgery, the size of the breast, the type of incision, and the effects of radiation on the skin are all factors. However, the breast usually looks quite normal and most women are pleased that they chose this breast-saving treatment.

Q. What is chemotherapy and when is it used?

A. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells. Anticancer drugs are used to reach areas of the body where cancer cells may be hiding, and to eliminate them before they multiply and hurt the normal cells and organs. More information on this supplementary treatment can be found in Chemotherapy and You: A Guide to Self-Help During Treatment and Adjuvant Therapy: Facts for Women With Breast Cancer, both of which are available from the National Cancer Institute.

Q. How frequently should I plan to see a doctor after radiation therapy treatment?

A. Your doctor will tell you when to schedule your first post-treatment exam. The two of you will then decide whether you should continue to make regular visits to him or her or to a medical oncologist, an internist, a gynecologist, or a family practitioner. Most doctors believe that women treated for breast cancer should have professional exams every 3 to 6 months for the first 3 years after surgery. More information on followup exams, possible signs of recurrence, and taking care of yourself can be found in After Breast Cancer: A Guide to Followup Care, another booklet available from the National Cancer Institute.

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