Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, uses x-rays or gamma rays to treat and manage cancer.

Understanding your radiation therapy treatment can help you prepare, and reduce any anxiety you may be feeling and concerns you may have. We encourage you to speak to your doctor for advice tailored to your cancer and treatment plan.

Please send us a message if you would like more information about being treated at Icon.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, uses radiation to safely treat and manage cancer by destroying cancer cells, reducing the growth and spread of cancer or relieving cancer symptoms.

Radiation therapy attacks cancer cells and limits damage to healthy cells, as cancer cells are more sensitive to radiation.

When small doses of radiation are provided over a period of days and weeks, normal cells can recover from the radiation, but cancer cells cannot

Radiation is typically painless, similar to having an x-ray, and is targeted to the part of the body being treated.

How is radiation therapy delivered?

Icon uses evidence-based radiation therapy techniques and technology to deliver accurate radiation to tumours and treat all cancer types of various size, type and location.

Radiation therapy can be your sole cancer treatment, or provided in combination with other treatments such as chemotherapy, hormones and surgery. The treatment is a relatively quick process lasting only a few minutes and generally provided as an outpatient service.

Treatment is usually provided each day (Monday to Friday) over a number of weeks, which allows the radiation to target cancer cells and provides healthy cells with enough time to recover over the weekend. Your course of radiation therapy is unique to you and your cancer, depending on the location and stage of your disease, type of cancer, age and general health.

Radiation doesn’t make you radioactive and it’s safe for you to be around other people, including children and pregnant woman.

Side effects of radiation therapy

Since radiation therapy is targeted to a specific area of your body, you will only experience side effects in this area.

Your radiation oncologist and treatment team will discuss the type of side effects you may experience before your treatment begins.

Two to three weeks after your radiation therapy begins, you may experience skin redness, dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling. These skin reactions may last throughout your treatment, and will usually resolve a few weeks after treatment has finished. Sometimes these effects may worsen towards the end of treatment and for up to two weeks after your treatment ends.

Another common side effect you may have during your treatment is fatigue, a feeling of exhaustion and lack of energy. As you reach the end of your treatment, your fatigue may worsen. Every person is affected by fatigue in different ways, which may also depend on whether you are receiving other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. Fatigue usually resolves a few weeks after the completion of your treatment. To best manage your fatigue, it’s important to find a balance between rest and activity.

Although most side effects are temporary and resolve after your radiation therapy has finished, there is a possibility that long-term effects may occur. Please discuss with your radiation oncologist as he/she is the best person to provide more details and this will be covered in the consent process before you start your treatment.

At Icon, we’re here to help you manage any side effects that you may have. Please talk to your care team about any side effects you are experiencing.

Helpful links

Treatment techniques

Frequently asked questions

Does radiation therapy make you radioactive?

Radiation doesn’t make you radioactive. It’s completely safe for you to be around other people, including children and pregnant woman

Will I lose my hair?

Radiation therapy is only targeted to the area of your body with cancer. Unless this is an area where hair grows, such as your scalp or face, you will not have any hair loss. If you are having treatment for breast cancer, your underarm hair may fall out if it is near the radiated area, however it will grow back in time.

Can I drive after treatment?

Yes, it is safe for you to drive after you receive radiation therapy treatment. However, if you feel unfit or unwell to drive, it’s vital that you tell your care team immediately.

Will radiation therapy affect my fertility?

This depends on the area that is receiving treatment. If you are a woman having radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis, the amount of radiation absorbed by the ovaries will determine the potential impact on your fertility. Radiation to the pituitary gland may also affect your fertility, as this gland normally signals the ovaries to ovulate.

Radiation to both testes in men is rare. However, if this is part of your treatment plan your fertility will be affected. If the radiation fields include the pelvis, for example in the treatment of rectal, prostate or soft tissue sarcoma at the buttock or upper leg areas, there may be scattered radiation doses to the testes that can affect your fertility and this can be temporary or permanent depending on the radiation doses received.

Please speak with your radiation oncologist if you or your partner wish to become pregnant or you have fertility concerns.

Does radiation affect pregnancy?

You must not be pregnant or become pregnant at any point during your radiation therapy, as radiation can harm the foetus by causing congenital abnormalities and increases miscarriage risk.

If you think you might be pregnant at any time, it is extremely important to discuss this with a member of your care team. Adequate protection, for example in the use of condom during sexual intercourse or using birth control pill is needed to ensure that you do not become pregnant during the course of radiation. If you want to become pregnant after your treatment please talk to your radiation oncologist about this before starting radiation therapy.

Can I father children during radiation therapy?

If you’re having radiation therapy to your pelvic region, you must not father children during treatment. Radiation therapy may damage your sperm, which can lead to birth abnormalities. If you wish to father children after your treatment please talk to your radiation oncologist about this before starting radiation therapy.

Will I feel nauseated?

If you receive radiation therapy targeted to your abdominal region, you may get an upset stomach and feel nauseated. This will usually resolve when your course of treatment finishes. Your oncologist can prescribe a medication to prevent and treat the nausea if needed. If you notice you are feeling nauseated for a prolonged period of time, please inform our team so we can suggest ways to manage this.

How long does radiation therapy treatment take?

Radiation therapy is scheduled over an extended period of time, usually across 1-7 weeks. This allows healthy cells to recover while the dosage given is high enough to improve clinical outcomes. Each treatment session may last between 5 to 20 minutes.

Making an appointment

Find out how to become an Icon patient, or request more information about your local centre.
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Starting radiation therapy

Knowing what to expect can help you prepare for your first radiation therapy visit.
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Frequently asked questions

Learn answers to some common concerns and misconceptions about radiation therapy.
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