The effects of radiation therapy depend on the part of the body being treated and the number of treatments required. Your treatment team will tell you the likely effects for you. It can be hard to know how to prepare, but a number of general issues are worth considering in advance.
Find out about quitting
If you smoke, try to quit or cut down before radiation therapy starts as smoking may make the treatment less effective and side effects worse. Quitting can be difficult, especially if you're already feeling anxious about the cancer diagnosis, so it is important to seek support – talk to your doctor, call Quitline on 13 78 48 or visit quitnow.gov.au.
Explore ways to relax
Waiting for and having radiation therapy can make people feel anxious. Take something to read or listen to while you wait, ask a friend or family member to keep you company, or try chatting to other people waiting for treatment. To help you relax during the session, try meditation or breathing exercises, or ask the radiation therapists if you can listen to music.
Organise help at home
You may become very tired during the later weeks of treatment. Some support with housework, meals and errands can ease the load. If you have young children, you may need to arrange for someone to look after them during treatment sessions and possibly afterwards. Older children may need lifts to and from school and activities. Consider asking one friend or family member to coordinate offers of help.
Talk to the hospital social worker or clinic receptionist about parking arrangements as there will often be spots set aside for radiation therapy patients. At first, you may feel well enough to drive yourself or catch public transport to radiation therapy sessions. However, you are likely to feel more tired as the treatment goes on, so try to arrange for a relative, friend or volunteer to drive you. You may be able to get community transport through your local council or Cancer Council.
Mention metal implants
Let your treatment team know if you have any medical devices in your body, such as a pacemaker, cochlear implant or another metal implant. Radiation therapy can affect these devices.
Ask about travel assistance
If the treatment centre is a long distance from your home, you may be eligible for financial assistance towards the cost of accommodation or travel. Your local Cancer Council may also provide accommodation services. For details, speak to the hospital social worker or clinic receptionist, call Cancer Council on 13 11 20.
Discuss your concerns
Keep a list of questions for your treatment team. If you are feeling anxious about the diagnosis and treatment, try talking to a member of the radiation therapy team, your GP, or a family member or friend. You can also call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 to speak to a health professional.
Some types of radiation therapy can affect your fertility. If you think you may want to have children in the future, talk to your treatment team about your options before radiation therapy begins.
Expert content reviewers:
Dr Tiffany Daly, Radiation Oncologist, Radiation Oncology Princess Alexandra Raymond Terrace (ROPART), South Brisbane, QLD; Elly Keating, Acting Principal Radiation Therapist, Northern Territory Radiation Oncology, Alan Walker Cancer Care Centre, NT; Julie O'Rourke, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Radiation Oncology, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Ching Tsao, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; A/Prof Sandra Turner, Clinical Lead, Targeting Cancer Campaign, Faculty of Radiation Oncology, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR), NSW; Dr David Waterhouse, Acting Principal Radiation Oncology Medical Physicist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; David Wells, Consumer.