10 questions on radiation therapy

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation Therapy or Radiation Oncology utilizes high-energy radiation that is closely monitored and controlled to deliver precisely targeted treatments. These precise treatments are custom designed individually for each patient.

How is the radiation delivered?

Radiation can be delivered externally (similar to an x-ray machine) or internally where radioactive sources are placed within the body, also known as Brachytherapy. Brachytherapy can be delivered either temporarily or permanently with a seed that rapidly delivers its dose and then is no longer radioactive. For specific cancers there are also Radiopharmaceuticals (drugs that can be taken orally) that can deliver radiation to specific targeted areas. Radiopharmaceuticals can also be used for noncancerous health issues, such as overactive thyroid.

A radiation oncologist will discuss and prescribe the best treatment method specific to your cancer type.

Who gets radiation therapy?

Sixty percent of cancer patients receive radiation therapy, some in conjunction with other cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or surgery. Sometimes patients only receive radiation therapy.

How does radiation work?

When radiation interacts with cells, it causes damage. Damage to cancer cells causes cell death. The damage to the cancer cells can cure, stop or slow the growth of the cancer. Normal cells can also be damaged, but these cells can repair themselves or reproduce new cells that are healthy. The doses are balanced to maximize cancer cell damage while protecting and limiting damage to healthy cells.

Does radiation therapy hurt?

Radiation does not hurt. Radiation cannot be seen, felt, heard and is odorless. It is very similar to receiving a chest X-ray. However, some side effects may be uncomfortable.

Can daily work continue during treatment?

Most people continue to work during their treatment, just be sure to get plenty of rest and eat right. Listen to your body, if you are tired, rest.

What should be expected when visiting the radiation oncology department?

Initially you meet the doctor who is a Radiation Oncologist; the plan of treatment is discussed in depth with you. Then you will be scheduled for a CT scan. These images are used to design your custom treatment. Several days are required to complete the planning process. When the planning process is completed, you will be scheduled to start treatment.

How often will I be treated?

Treatment is given 5 days a week, Monday through Friday. Treatments take just a few minutes, but you may need to be scheduled for several weeks.

How important is cancer screening?

Encourage loved ones to be screened. Early detection of cancer will provide the most favorable results. Even if you don’t have a significant family history of cancer, screening is valuable. Speak with your primary care physician; explain you want to follow the national guidelines for cancer screening.

Where can I find additional resources?

There are many resources but here are several to get you started:


The National Cancer Institute, 1.800.422.6237, www.cancer.gov

American Cancer Society, 1.800.227.2345, www.cancer.org



BIO: Susan Peneguy is a registered radiation therapist with more than 25 years of experience who currently serves patients at Winter Haven Hospital. Winter Haven Hospital has served the community with Radiation Therapy services for nearly 50 years. The department delivers modern, quality driven care for all types of cancers.

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