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What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor?

Coping with a diagnosis of cancer and researching the various cancer treatment options can be a stressful experience. To assist you in this process, below is a list of questions you may want to ask your radiation oncologist.

Questions to ask before treatment

  • What type and stage of cancer do I have?
  • What is the purpose of radiation treatment for my type of cancer?
  • How will the radiation therapy be given? Will it be external beam or brachytherapy? What do the treatments feel like?
  • For how many weeks will I receive radiation? How many treatments will I receive per week?
  • How long will my treatment take each day?
  • What are the chances that radiation therapy will work?
  • What are the other options for the treatment of my type and stage of cancer?
  • 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 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?

Questions to ask 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?
  • Will I be able to continue working during my treatments?
  • 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?
  • Is it safe to take vitamins during treatment?

Questions to ask After Treatment Ends

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

Are There Any Side Effects?

  • Radiation therapy is usually well tolerated and many patients are able to continue their normal routines. However, some patients may eventually develop painful side effects. Be sure to talk to a member of your radiation oncology treatment team about any problems or discomfort you may have.
  • Many of the side effects of radiation therapy are only in the area being treated. For example, a breast cancer patient may notice skin irritation, like a mild to moderate sunburn, while a patient with cancer in the mouth may have soreness when swallowing. Some patients who are having their midsection treated may report feeling sick to their stomach. These side effects are usually temporary and can be treated by your doctor or other members of the treatment team.
  • Side effects usually begin by the second or third week of treatment, and they may last for several weeks after the final radiation treatment. In rare instances, serious side effects develop after radiation therapy is finished. Your radiation oncologist and radiation oncology nurse are the best people to advise you about the side effects you may experience. Talk with them about any side effects you are having. There is someone available to assist you at any time you are in our facility. You will also have a weekly meeting with your radiation oncologist during your treatments to discuss and treat any side effects you are having. They can give you information about how to manage them and may prescribe medicines or changes in your eating habits to help relieve your discomfort.
  • The side effect most often reported by patients receiving radiation is fatigue. The fatigue patients experience is usually not severe, and patients may be able to continue all or some of their normal daily activities with a reduced schedule. However, treating cancer often requires considerable mental and physical effort. Whenever possible, try to take time during your treatment to rest and relax.
  • Many patients are concerned that radiation therapy will cause another cancer. In fact, the risk of developing a second tumor because of radiation therapy is very low. For many patients, radiation therapy can cure your cancer. This benefit far outweighs the very small risk that the treatment could cause a later cancer. If you smoke, the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of a second cancer is to quit smoking.

What changes do I need to make to my diet? What nutritional supplements should I take?

There is no secret, no magic pill, and no miracle food for cancer patients.  The key is simply good nutrition: a balanced diet of nourishing foods, and enough of them to maintain a stable weight.  The period while you are fighting cancer is not a good time to try to take off weight, because it puts your body under additional stress.  Unless you are instructed otherwise by your doctor, try to maintain your normal weight.

We are often asked about whether to take antioxidants such as vitamin E, selenium, and vitamin C.  These substances work, at least in theory, by “soaking up” harmful free radical molecules in the body.  The problem is that radiation therapy is effective because it produces free radicals, and those free radicals are the actual pathway to damaging the malignant cells.  In theory, a large amount of antioxidant could actually protect your cancer from radiation damage!  Although there is no proof that this really happens, there is also no proof that it does not, and we think it is prudent not to take additional doses of these drugs during radiation therapy.  A multi-vitamin containing small quantities is permitted.  It is also okay to start taking antioxidants again, if you wish, one day after the radiation course is completed.  Our registered dietitian works with our patients and families to develop nutrition plans and provides the resources and information they need to get the
necessary nutrients.

Video - What to Expect

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