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Radiation Therapy

If your cancer is localized to one part of your body, radiation therapy may be your best treatment option. Radiation is often used in combination with other cancer treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy.

Why Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy can:

  • Reduce tumor size, to make it easier to remove tumors surgically
  • Stop cancer from spreading
  • Control pain, pressure, and other cancer symptoms
  • Control benign diseases, including:
    • Acoustic neuromas
    • Heterotopic bone formation
    • Meningiomas

Coordinated Cancer Care

Our experienced team of radiation oncologists is the largest in western Massachusetts. We coordinate your care with other members of your oncology team to determine the best treatment plan for you, based on:

  • Age
  • Cancer location
  • Current health
  • Gender
  • Medical history
  • Stage of cancer
  • Type of cancer

All of your Baystate medical information, including X-rays, pathology, and other medical reports, is stored electronically so team members are always up to date with your care plan.

Advanced Cancer Treatment

We offer the latest radiation therapy options, including:

  •  External beam radiation, including image-guided radiation, intensity-modulated radiation, stereotactic radiosurgery, stereotactic radiotherapy, 3D conformal radiation, and skin surface brachytherapy
  •  Internal radiation, including high-dose rate implants and permanent interstitial implants
  •  Radioactive seed localization, for patients undergoing lumpectomies for breast cancer

Questions to Ask About Radiation Therapy

If you need radiation therapy to treat your cancer, you may have concerns and worries. You probably also have many questions about what you will experience and what kind of side effects you can expect.

Baystate Regional Cancer Program cancer specialists believe in a holistic approach to your care. We encourage you to ask as many questions as you need, so you can feel confident and comfortable with your treatment plan.

In addition to specific questions you may want to ask before, during, and after your treatment, here are common some questions to ask your care team:

Before Treatment

  •  What type and stage of cancer do I have?
  •  What is the purpose of radiation treatment for my type of cancer?
  •  How do you perform radiation therapy? Will it be external beam or internal beam (brachytherapy)? What do the treatments feel like?
  •  For how many weeks will I receive radiation? How many treatments will I receive per week?
  •  What are the chances that radiation therapy will work?
  •  Can I participate in a clinical trial? If so, what is the trial testing? What are my benefits and risks? 
  •  What is the chance that the cancer will spread or come back if I do not have radiation therapy?
  •  Will I need chemotherapy, surgery, or other treatments? If so, in what order will I receive these treatments? How soon after radiation therapy can I start them?
  •  How should I prepare for this financially?
  •  What are some of the support groups I can turn to during treatment?
  •  If I have questions after I leave here, who can I call?
  •  Will radiation therapy affect my ability to have children?
  •  Do you take my insurance plan?

During Treatment

  •  How can I expect to feel during treatment and in the weeks following radiation therapy?
  •  Can I drive myself to and from the treatment facility?
  •  Will I be able to continue my normal activities?
  •  What side effects may occur from the radiation and how are they managed?
  •  Do I need a special diet during or after my treatment?
  •  Can I exercise?
  •  Can I have sex?
  •  Can I smoke or drink alcohol?
  •  Will side effects change my appearance? If so, will the changes be permanent or temporary? If temporary, how long will they last?
  •  Is it safe to take vitamins during treatment?

After Treatment

  •  How and when will you know if I am cured of cancer?
  •  What are the chances the cancer will come back?
  •  How soon can I go back to my regular activities?
  •  How soon can I go back to aerobic exercise?
  •  How soon can I go back to work?
  •  How soon can I resume sexual activity?
  •  How often do I need to return for checkups?

Is radiation therapy safe?

Radiation therapy is safe and effective and can help stop cancer from spreading.

Just as X-rays can be used to safely image your breast with a mammogram or larger areas of your body with a CT scan, the same X-rays can be used to safely treat cancer cells a surgery may not be able to reach or drug therapy may not overcome.

Similar to surgery, radiation therapy is directed just to the area of your body in need of treatment: your breast and possibly nearby lymph nodes (if necessary). If cancer has spread to other parts of the body and is causing harmful symptoms (such as a painful spot in a bone) radiation can be a powerful tool to bring long-lasting relief quickly.

What can I expect during my radiotherapy?

Your experience with the radiation portion of your cancer treatment begins with what we call a radiation planning session. This involves a brief CT scan in our department where you lie on a table in the exact position in which you will be treated each day.

Your doctor may place temporary marker stickers on your skin to help outline areas to be treated. Two or 3 barely visible permanent pinpoint tattoos will be placed on your skin as well to be used as reference points for your daily treatment.

Several days later, your daily 5 day per week treatment will begin. You will be in the radiation department for no more than one hour each day, and usually less. Your time lying quietly on the X-ray table while the treatment machine rotates around you is only about 15 to 20 minutes. During that time you will not feel any different, and radiation therapists may be moving in and out of the room to adjust your set-up.

While the treatment is being delivered, the staff members will be outside the room watching you on camera.

How long is a course of radiation treatment for breast cancer?

Your course of treatment to the breast (or chest wall after mastectomy) would typically last anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks.

In some cases it is necessary to treat not only the breast area but the nearby lymph nodes as well (under your arm, above your collar bone, and next to your breast bone).

If it is a spot of cancer elsewhere in the body being treated for symptom relief, the calendar time is usually 2 weeks or less.

Once per week, your radiation oncologist will briefly meet with you to see how you are doing, address any questions, and help deal with any side effects.

What are the side effects of radiation treatment?

You may have side effects during and after radiation therapy. Your care team will help you manage them so you feel comfortable. This is why there is always a radiation nurse available, and you routinely meet with your radiation doctor once per week during treatment.

The most common side effects during treatment include:

  • Swelling in the treatment area
  • Skin changes that include sensitivity, dryness or thickening of the breast tissue
  • Fatigue, or low energy

After your course of treatment is finished, side effects can include:

  • Tanning in the treatment area
  • Irritation within the breast for some weeks

    Other possible side effects specific to your situation will be discussed with by your radiation oncologist.