General Questions about Radiation Oncology

Radiation therapy utilizes high-energy rays (such as x-rays) to kill or shrink cancer cells and to treat benign conditions such as preventing

  • Blood vessel restenosis (vascular brachytherapy)
  • Extra bone growth after joint surgery (heterotropic bone prevention) and
  • Fibrous skin growths (keloids) after surgery.

In treating cancer, the radiation may come from outside of the body (external radiation) or from radioactive materials placed directly in the tumor (brachytherapy). Radiation therapy may be used

  • To reduce the size of a cancer before surgery
  • To destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery, or, in some cases,
  • As the primary treatment for cancer and other diseases.

Since radiation therapy is most commonly used to treat cancer, this section will focus on radiation therapy in the Cancer Treatment Center. Additional information on radiation therapy for treatment of benign conditions can be found in the Procedures section of this site.

Whether radiation is your primary treatment or part of a multi-disciplinary plan of care including chemotherapy, surgery or another therapy, we will work together with you, your family, and your physician to provide well-coordinated care.

Radiation therapy can be used to treat many kinds of cancer in almost any part of the body. More than half of all patients with cancer are treated with some form of radiation, and, for many cancer patients, radiation is the only kind of treatment needed. Thousands of people who have had radiation therapy alone or in combination with other types of cancer treatment are free of cancer.

With acceptable side effects, and optimal preservation of normal tissue, radiation therapy is a highly effective treatment for the following types of cancer:

  • Breast Cancer – in both men and women
  • Central Nervous System – tumors of the brain and spinal cord; brain metastases from unknown primary location
  • Gastrointestinal – tumors of the gastrointestinal tract; unknown primary location
  • Genitourinary – cancers of the urinary tract and male genital organs
  • Gynecology – cancers of the uterus, ovaries, cervix, vagina, vulva and urethra
  • Head & Neck – cancers of the head and neck, including melanoma
  • Lymphoma – tumors in the lymph nodes or bone marrow, including multiple myeloma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, mycosis fungoides
  • Pediatrics – tumors and hematologic malignancies in children and adolescents
  • Sarcoma – tumors in connective tissue, including fat and muscle
  • Thoracic – cancers of the lung, thymus, and esophagus

Many forms of radiation are available. The best choice depends on:

  • Your diagnosis
  • The extent of your disease and
  • The location of your tumor.

Spectrum radiation oncologists work closely with you and other members of the radiation therapy team to provide you with comprehensive care. During the course of your radiation therapy, you will be cared for by a group of skilled professionals. You will be assigned to a primary radiation oncologist, although you may also be seen by other radiation oncologists who are part of our group.

Initial Consultation

On your first visit, you will meet with one of our radiation oncologists. During the initial consultation we will talk with you to determine if radiation therapy is the best treatment for you. As part of the consultation, we will perform a full physical examination and review any laboratory or diagnostic reports from tests you have had. The radiation oncologist will discuss the extent of your disease, the rationale and plan of radiation therapy, and any possible side effects that you can expect from your radiation therapy.

Many patients find that it is helpful to bring someone with them for the initial consultation. Please feel free to bring your spouse, family member, or close friend with you.


Once we have determined that radiation therapy is the best course of treatment for you, you will be scheduled for a CT simulation.

The purpose of the simulation is to map out the specific area to be treated. A radiation therapist, under the direction of a Spectrum radiation oncologist, will take special x-rays, which mark the area to be treated; these will be reviewed by the radiation oncologist. The radiation therapist and dosimetrist (a specialist who uses computers to help design treatment plans) will take measurements and may place small marks on your skin to be used during treatment.

Your treatment may require the use of certain devices to help you remain still comfortably (pillows, foam cushions, face masks) and to protect normal tissue around the tumor. The simulation will last approximately one hour. If you are having pain, you may want to take your pain medicine about one hour before the simulation.

Afterwards, all of the information gathered during your simulation will be used by the radiation oncologist to plan your treatment.

Radiation Treatments

Normally, all your treatments will be given at the same time five days a week for a period of two to eight weeks.

The radiation therapist will position you on the treatment table using the marks that were placed on your skin during simulation.

During the initial treatment, we will take special x-rays called ‘port films’ which are used by your radiation oncologist to verify the treatment area. These films will be taken every seven to ten days while you are under treatment. They do not tell how your treatment is progressing, but serve as a way of assuring treatment accuracy.

You will be in the treatment room approximately 10-20 minutes, but the actual treatment will only take one or two minutes. During the treatment, you will hear a humming noise when the radiation beam is turned on. You will not experience any effects during the treatment. The radiation therapist will be watching you on a TV monitor and talking with you using an intercom.

To keep the treatment schedule running smoothly, please arrive ten minutes prior to your scheduled treatment time. If you are having problems with the treatment time given to you, talk with your therapist. We will do our best to help you resolve scheduling conflicts. If you are sick and unable to report for your treatment, please call us. Any missed treatments will need to be rescheduled so that we achieve the total dose of radiation needed to treat your cancer.

Follow-up Appointment

Once you have completed radiation therapy, you will have regular follow up exams with a Spectrum radiation oncologist. If you will need follow-up lab tests or x-rays, we will discuss this with you. Generally speaking, we like to schedule follow-up visits with you at three to six month intervals for the first year and yearly thereafter. Some patients are referred back to their primary care physician or oncologist. We will review your follow-up plan with you at the end of your therapy.

Contact Information

A radiation oncologist is on call weekday evenings, weekends, and holidays. If you need to speak with us, please call the location where you receive your treatments and leave your name and phone number with our answering service. We will return your call as soon as possible.  Visit our radiation oncology locations page for additional information.