Frequently Asked Questions What is radiation therapy? Radiation therapy is a treatment for cancer, used in more than half of all cancer cases. In radiation therapy, high-energy rays are used to destroy cancer cells in your body. The radiation is delivered by a special machine called a linear accelerator or by radioactive substances that are implanted or injected. We use the most advanced computer planning and treatment delivery systems to precisely deliver the radiation. Your safety is of paramount importance to us. Follow-up care is aimed at assessing the disease status and managing side effects. What is a Radiation Oncologist? The Radiation Oncologist is a physician who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer and some benign diseases. During your consultation the Radiation Oncologist discusses treatment options and advises on the best treatment for you. The Radiation Oncologist works closely with other cancer specialists and healthcare professionals involved in your care and meets with you on a regular basis to check on the status of your treatment. How does radiation therapy work? Radiation therapy works by damaging the DNA in the cancer cell, thereby disabling the cancer cell from reproducing and growing. The cancer cells then die and the cancer shrinks. The most common form of radiation therapy uses multiple beams of high energy x-rays focused on the tumor from several directions. A machine called a linear accelerator is used to generate the x-ray beams. Will I feel the radiation or will it hurt? No, external beam radiation treatments are painless, like having an x-ray taken. Most likely, you will not feel anything during the daily radiation session. Will I become radioactive? External beam radiation does not cause you to become radioactive, and you pose no risk of radiation exposure to people near you. If you have a radioactive implant in place, some visitors, such as pregnant women and small children, will not be allowed to get too close and visiting time may be limited or restricted until the implant is removed. Your doctor or nurse will tell you when these precautions are necessary. Are there risks involved with radiation therapy? The radiation used to damage or destroy cancer cells can also damage normal cells. When this happens, you may experience side effects. However, the risk of side effects is usually outweighed by the benefits of killing cancer cells. The Radiation Oncologist will carefully monitor any side effects. What are the typical side effects of radiation therapy? The most common side effects of radiation therapy reported by patients are fatigue and skin irritation at the site of treatment. Other side effects depend on the area of the body being treated and the dosage being given. Dry or sore mouth or throat may occur when treatment is being given in the mouth, throat or neck area. Some coughing and excess mucus production may occur if treatment is given to the lung area. Mild nausea and/or diarrhea may occur if treatment involves the abdominal area. Most of these side effects will subside within 4 to 6 weeks after treatment is completed. Some long-term effects may include changes in the color and elasticity of skin in the treatment area. Discuss any concerns you may have about side effects with the radiation oncologist and ask about medications to counteract them. Will the radiation therapy make me sick? You will not experience any nausea with radiation therapy, unless the area being treated with radiation is around the intestines/stomach. If you experience nausea, report this and any other symptoms to your doctor. Effective medications exist to reduce and/or prevent your symptoms. Will I lose my hair? Hair loss only occurs in the area that is being treated with radiation therapy. For instance, if the area being treated is your arm, you can expect to lose the hair on that arm during treatment. You will not lose the hair on your head unless that is the area being treated. How long will my radiation treatment take? Most of the time, external beam radiation is delivered in daily treatments, or fractions, over a period of 1 to 7 weeks. You will generally receive these treatments Monday through Friday, and then have the weekend off. Your daily appointment will take about 15-30 minutes. Who will administer my radiation treatments? A doctor who specializes in radiation therapy is called a Radiation Oncologist. The Radiation Oncologist will prescribe the type and amount of radiation treatment that is appropriate and work closely with a team of healthcare professionals in determining the best way to deliver that treatment. Those healthcare professionals may include the following: Radiation Physicists are experts who make sure the machines are working properly and that they deliver accurate radiation doses. The Physicist also works closely with the doctor in planning your treatment. Dosimetrists are specialists who work with the doctor and Physicist to create the treatment plan and calculate the radiation dose delivered to the tumor while protecting the surrounding normal tissues. Radiation Therapists are professionals who position you and operate the machines to deliver the radiation treatment on the linear accelerator. Radiation Oncology Nurses are caregivers who will help coordinate your care, manage side effects, and help you and your family learn about your disease. Can someone come to my treatments with me? Friends or family are welcome to accompany you to your treatments. However, federal regulations prohibit anyone who is not a patient or a person wearing a film badge monitor to be in the radiation controlled area during the time radiation equipment is being operated. Those accompanying you will likely be asked to remain in the waiting room during the treatment. This also serves to protect the privacy of other patients. Only patients and staff are allowed in the treatment area during treatment hours. Can I continue my regular routine while undergoing radiation treatments? You should continue with your normal routines. Most patients continue full-time occupations or leisure activities through the course of treatments. When you feel tired, do not over exert yourself; take time to rest when needed. Try to get plenty of sleep and maintain a healthy diet. Will I be alone during my treatments? Because radiation effects are accumulated and radiation therapists treat many patients each day, it would be a long-term health risk for them to be in the room during the radiation treatments. To ensure that you are okay and your treatment delivery is going well, you will be in voice contact with your radiation therapists and constantly monitored by a video camera. If you should need assistance, simply tell the therapists and they will terminate the treatment and immediately tend to your needs. Are there any side effects? Patients often experience few or no side affects from radiation therapy and are able to continue their normal routines. Be sure to talk to your treatment team about any problems you experience managing side effects. Most side effects are related to the area being treated. For example a breast cancer patient may notice skin irritation, like a mild to moderate sunburn. Patients with cancer in the mouth may have soreness when swallowing. These side effects are usually temporary. Side effects usually begin during the second or third week of treatment and may last for several weeks after your final treatment. Fatigue, which is usually mild to moderate, is the most often reported side effect. During the course of Radiation Therapy it is important that you eat a well-balanced diet and plan for adequate rest. In many cases, level of daily activity does not have to be restricted, and many patients continue to work full time during radiation therapy. Does the clinic accept Medicare assignment? Yes, we accept assignment. Whom do I call if I have questions about my insurance paying for cancer treatments prior to my first appointment? Questions regarding your insurance coverage should be directed to our Billing Office at 608-259-4372. Hours are 7:00 am to 3:30 pm. Below is a partial list of insurance companies whose plans we participate in: Alliance Dean Health Plan Group Health Health EOS Medicare Physician’s Plus WEA Wisconsin Medicaid W.P.S. If you are a current patient, call and speak to the Billing Office at 608-259-4372. Hours are 7:00 am to 3:30 pm. Whom do I call if I have questions about my account? Specific questions regarding your account should be directed to our Billing Office at 608-259-4372. Hours are 7:00 am to 3:30 pm.