Tips & Advice
Does radiation therapy always result in hair loss?
Any part of the skin that has hair might undergo hair loss following radiation therapy. However, this is typically not permanent, and hair will regrow when treatment is concluded. Still, many common forms of chemotherapy, used in conjunction with radiation treatment, will also cause temporary hair loss throughout the body.
What is a radiation oncologist?
A radiation oncologist is a specialist physician focusing on treating cancer through radiation therapy. Radiation oncologists must be certified as medical doctors and usually undergo a four-year residency in a general oncology (cancer study) department.
Who is generally on a radiation oncology team?
The head radiation oncologist is usually supported by several technicians and nurse practitioners to handle equipment and assist with treatment. They may also be supported by a radiologist team that will perform the imaging scans necessary to view some cancers inside the body.
When is a patient referred to a radiation oncologist?
Patients are usually referred to a radiation oncologist by a general practitioner, or to a general oncologist after a positive cancer diagnosis.
Which types of cancer are the best candidates for radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy is most effective when it can be targeted as close to the cancerous mass as possible while limiting exposure to healthy tissues. There are several different techniques and specialized machines that could be more effective for one type of cancer over another.
Does insurance cover radiation therapy?
Health insurance plans will usually provide coverage for standard forms of cancer treatment including radiation therapy, but may not cover costs related to travel or missed work, for example.
What are the side effects of radiation therapy?
Side effects from radiation therapy occur both soon after treatment and potentially many months or years later. Acute side effects usually subside once treatment is concluded, while chronic effects might not appear until much later.
Acute side effects include:
- Skin irritation around the treated area
- Damage to salivary glands (when exposure is near the face or head)
- Hair loss
- Difficulty urinating (when exposure is near the lower abdomen).
Chronic side effects include:
- Fibrosis: A condition in which damaged tissue is replaced by scar tissue, which restricts movement, causing discomfort
- Intestinal damage
- Memory loss
- Risk of a second cancer due to radiation exposure (very rarely)
Radiation therapy is often performed in conjunction with chemotherapy, which can cause other side effects.
How does radiation kill cancer cells?
Radiation is harmful to both cancerous and normal cells because it is able to disrupt the DNA that allows them to divide. Damage to cellular DNA prevents cells from replicating, which should keep the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.
Is radiation therapy safe?
The radiation used in cancer treatment is designed to target only the cancerous cells in a tumor while limiting exposure to the rest of the body. However, this radiation can also damage normal cells. Still, the benefits of radiation therapy generally outweigh the risks involved.
What is radiation oncology?
Radiation oncology is the treatment of some types of cancer through the application of ionizing radiation. A physician trained in the use of these techniques is known as a radiation oncologist.