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Radiation therapy - questions to ask your doctor

  • Definition
    • You are having radiation therapy. This is treatment that uses high-powered x-rays or particles to kill cancer cells. You may receive radiation therapy by itself or also have other treatments at the same time. Your health care provider may need to follow you closely while you are having radiation therapy. You will also need to learn how to best care for yourself during this time.

      Below are questions you may want to ask your doctor.

  • Questions
    • Do I need someone to bring me in and pick me up after the radiation treatments?

      What are the known side effects?

      • How soon after starting my radiation will I experience side effects?

      What will my skin look like after radiation treatments? How should I take care of my skin?

      • When can I put creams or lotions on it?
      • Will I have skin sores? How should I treat them?
      • Can I remove the marks on my skin that the doctor or technician made?
      • Will my skin hurt?

      Can I go out in the sun?

      • Should I use sunscreen?
      • Do I need to stay indoors during cold weather?

      Am I at risk of infections?

      • What foods should I not eat so that I do not get an infection?
      • Is my water at home ok to drink? Are there places I should not drink the water?
      • Can I go swimming?
      • What should I do when I go to a restaurant?
      • Can I be around pets?
      • What immunizations do I need? Which immunizations should I stay away from?
      • Is it ok to be in a crowd of people? Do I have to wear a mask?
      • Can I have visitors over? Do they need to wear a mask?
      • When should I wash my hands?
      • When should I take my temperature at home?

      Am I at risk of bleeding?

      • Is it ok to shave?
      • What should I do if I cut myself or start bleeding?

      Are there any medicines I should not take?

      • Are there any other medicines I should keep on hand?
      • Are there any vitamins and supplements I should or should not take?
      • What over-the-counter (OTC) medicines am I allowed to take?

      Do I need to use birth control?

      Will I be sick to my stomach or have loose stools or diarrhea?

      • How long after I start radiation treatment might these problems start?
      • What can I do if I am sick to my stomach or have diarrhea often?
      • What should I be eating to keep my weight and strength up?
      • Are there any foods I should avoid?
      • Am I allowed to drink alcohol?

      Will my hair fall out? Is there anything I can do about it?

      Will I have problems thinking or remembering things? Can I do anything that might help?

      How should I take care of my mouth and lips?

      • How can I prevent mouth sores?
      • How often should I brush my teeth? What type of toothpaste should I use?
      • What can I do about dry mouth?
      • What should I do if I have a mouth sore?

      What can I do about my fatigue?

      When should I call the doctor?

  • References
    • National Cancer Institute. Radiation therapy and you: support for people who have cancer. Available at: Accessed November 26, 2014.

      Zemen EM, Schreiber EC, Tepper JE. Basics of radiation therapy. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, et al., eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 27.