Radiation therapy: 11 questions my patients ask

As a radiation oncologist at MD Anderson in The Woodlands, I get a lot of questions from my patients about how radiation therapy will affect them, what side effects they can expect and whether the treatment is safe. Here are my answers to some of their frequently asked questions. Do I need to bring someone with me for each treatment? Unless you feel ill, you can typically drive yourself to treatment. In fact, many patients are able to work full-time during their treatment. When will I start experiencing side effects? Side effects depend on where you receive the radiation therapy, the dose given, whether you also receive chemotherapy and, if so, how much and what type. They usually begin by the second or third week of treatment and may last for several weeks after the final radiation treatment. In rare instances, there are serious side effects. Ask your doctor about the specific side effects that you may encounter and any follow-up questions about how to deal with them. Will I lose my hair? While chemotherapy causes hair loss throughout the body, that’s not the case for radiation therapy. Hair loss is associated with the radiation beam entrance and exit areas. Hair loss can be seen with radiation to the brain, head and neck, as well as the lower pelvis. Hair loss caused by radiation therapy may be temporary or permanent. At lower doses, hair loss is often temporary; at higher doses, hair loss can be permanent.  Am I radioactive? You’re radioactive only if you’re undergoing treatment with a radiation seed implant. If you are hospitalized for this procedure, you’ll...