Radiation Therapy: What to Expect

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when you learn you have cancer and will need radiation therapy. At Penn Medicine | Virtua Health Radiation Oncology, we work closely with you and your loved ones so you understand and feel more comfortable with your treatment plan.

First and foremost, you are not alone in your journey. A multidisciplinary team including experienced radiation oncologists, specially trained nurses, dosimetrists, oncology social workers, registered dietitians, and clinical researchers are here to provide you with the best possible care.

Here is what you can expect.

Meeting your radiation oncologist: Your doctor will review your medical records, diagnostic images (such as an MRI and CT scans), perform a physical exam, and recommend additional tests, if needed. You’ll learn the risks and benefits of radiation treatment, as well as potential side effects and how to manage them. This is a good time to ask questions and share any concerns.

Planning your treatment: Your first session is a practice run without radiation, also called a simulation. Through computed tomography (CT), we will outline or map the exact area of your body to be treated. The team will position you, and if needed, utilize immobilization devices such as foam sponges and molds to help hold you still and ensure that you are in the same position for each treatment. Depending on the area being treated, you also may receive small marks on your skin.

Treatment: Treatments typically begin one to two weeks after the CT simulation. Treatments are painless and are normally delivered five days a week, Monday through Friday, for three to six weeks. Sometimes, radiation therapy can be delivered every other day over 10 days. Each session lasts 15 to 20 minutes, although some therapies may last longer. Throughout your treatment, you will meet with your doctor and nurse once a week to assess and manage any side effects, such as skin sensitivity.

When your treatment ends: Once your treatments are completed, you will be scheduled for follow-up visits, at a frequency determined by your radiation oncologist. Your radiation oncologist will review your Survivorship Care Plan, which includes a treatment summary, recommendations for follow-up care, and resources to help you to maintain your health.

Our team is here to support you and your family during the entire process. We look forward to celebrating with you when you ring the bell at the completion of your radiation therapy treatments.

Please watch this video to help you prepare for radiation therapy at the Penn Medicine | Virtua Cancer Program.

Penn Medicine | Virtua Health
Radiation Oncology

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