Here you will find answers to frequently asked questions about radiation treatment at the Mass General Department of Radiation Oncology.

How does radiation therapy work?
Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays or particles to kill cancer cells. The radiation source may be external (from outside the body) and come from beams and X-rays aimed at the cancer; or, the radiation source may be internal (from inside the body) and come from radioactive implants. The goal of both external and internal radiation therapy is to kill the cancer cells while limiting the damage to healthy normal cells around the tumor. Most healthy cells that are damaged by the radiation can quickly repair themselves.

Does radiation treatment hurt?
Radiation treatment does not hurt. You cannot see, smell, or feel the radiation while it’s being administered.

What are potential side effects of radiation?
The goal of radiation therapy is to destroy cancer cells, but radiation therapy can also injure or destroy normal cells. This can cause some side effects. Your Radiation Oncologist will explain any possible side effects before your treatment begins. Common examples of acute side effects from radiation therapy are fatigue, loss of appetite, and skin irritation.

How long does a radiation treatment take?
Each type of radiation treatment differs in the amount of time needed to administer radiation. On the first day of your treatment the radiation therapist can give you a rough estimate of how long the treatment will take. Typically, your treatments will take the same amount of time everyday.

Who decides what type of radiation treatment I will have, and who administers the radiation?
The Radiation Oncologist is the doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer. They work with you and your other cancer doctors to develop your treatment plan. The Radiation Oncologist leads your radiation treatment team and decides which type of radiation and equipment will best treat your type of cancer. A Dosimetrist is a specialist who calculates and plans doses of radiation therapy. The Dosimetrist will work with the Radiation Oncologist to develop your specialized radiation plan. A team of Radiation Therapists set up your daily radiation treatment, position you and deliver the prescribed dose of radiation. Radiation Therapists leave the treatment room while the radiation is on, but are monitoring you outside the room through audiovisual equipment.

How often will I see my radiation oncologist while receiving radiation treatments?
You will see your radiation oncologists and nurse at least once every five treatments to monitor your progress throughout treatment. Usually the physician has a specific day of the week that he/she sees all of their patients. Your nurse is the person you should call when an issue arises on a day that you are not seeing your Radiation Oncologist.

Am I radioactive after my treatment?
No, you are not radioactive after your treatments. Radiation is produced through manipulation of electricity in our linear accelerators and is not a “live source” of radiation. Once the beam is turned off there is no longer radioactivity, and you’re safe to be around people.

How long should I plan to be in the Department of Radiation Oncology for my treatments? Do you ever run behind?
Our goal is for you to spend time with your family and friends - not in our Department - so we make every effort to ensure the efficiency of your treatment and to treat you as close to your scheduled time as possible. You should plan on being in the department for approximately one hour from your scheduled appointment time. If your treatment unit is more than 15 minutes behind schedule, one of the staff will notify you about the status of your scheduled appointment, but in the rare event you ever wait longer than 30 minutes for your scheduled appointment, please check with someone at the front desk for an update.

Is there special parking for my daily radiation treatment?
Yes, if you are receiving two or more radiation treatments, we offer a subsidized parking rate. Learn more from our brochure (PDF download) or ask at the front desk locations within Cox LL, Lunder LL2, Lunder LL3, or the Proton Center.