What to Expect
Once a diagnosis of cancer has been made, you will probably talk with your primary care physician along with several cancer specialists, such as a surgeon, a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist. You will want to ask these doctors about all your treatment options.
In many cases, your cancer will need to be treated by using more than one type of treatment. For example, if you have breast cancer, you might have surgery to remove the tumor (by a surgeon), then have radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells in or near your breast (by a radiation oncologist). You also might receive chemotherapy (by a medical oncologist) to destroy cancer cells that have traveled to other parts of the body. After reviewing your medical record including imaging, as well as completing a thorough patient history and physical examination, your radiation oncologist will discuss with you the potential benefits and risks of radiation therapy and answer your questions. For a list of questions that you may want to ask, please see the section Questions to Ask Your Doctor.
External beam radiation therapy is a well established method of treating cancer by using a high energy X-Ray (one thousand times more powerful than a chest X-Ray) produced by a machine called a linear accelerator. The accelerator machine shines the high energy X-Ray beam just like you shine a flashlight. Multiple beams are delivered from different directions to focus the radiation on the cancer cells and protect the normal tissues. The beam edges are very sharp to avoid scatter radiation dose to the rest of the body. Just like an X-Ray, you cannot see the beams and do not know it is happening. The treatment table is wide open so most patients do not become claustrophobic. Treatment typically takes 10- 15 minutes a day, Monday through Friday, over a period of one to six weeks. For more information visit Cancer.gov