Frequently Asked Questions

How Does Radiation Therapy Work?

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment. It uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and stop them from spreading. About half of all cancer patients receive it. The radiation may be external (delivered using special machines) or internal (brachytherapy, using radioactive substances that a doctor places inside your body).

How Does My Doctor Decide Which Radiation Therapy Is Best For Me?

The type of radiation therapy you receive depends on many factors, including:

  • Your type of cancer
  • The size of your cancer
  • The cancer's location in your body
  • How close the cancer is to normal tissues that are sensitive to radiation
  • How far into the body the radiation needs to travel to be effective
  • Your general health and medical history
  • Whether you will have other types of cancer treatment
  • Other factors, such as your age and other medical conditions

What Kinds Of Radiation Therapy Does NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Offer?

We offer brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy) and external beam radiation therapy, such as:

  • Image-guided radiation therapy
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy
  • Stereotactic body radiation therapy
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery
  • Volume-modulated ARC therapy
  • Electric field therapy for brain cancer
  • Radioisotope treatment for prostate cancer

Learn more about our radiation oncology technologies and services.

Will Radiation Therapy Make Me Radioactive?

External beam radiation therapy does not make you radioactive. Some people who have brachytherapy or a radioisotope are advised not to have close contact with children or pregnant women for a certain amount of time. Your doctor will let you know of any precautions you may need to take.

What Happens Before Radiation Therapy?

You will go through a process called simulation—an important part of your treatment plan. It involves the assessment of your tumor's location, shape, size, and density so we can carefully develop and design your radiation treatments with precision. Using our CT simulator, we are able to perform a CT scan and a simulation of the area to be treated at the same time, making this process accurate and convenient. This equipment produces 3D images of your internal anatomy which helps our doctors precisely locate the area to be targeted as well as identify nearby critical structures.

What Happens During Radiation Therapy? What Will I Feel?

External beam radiation therapy is like getting an x-ray. It doesn’t hurt. Your treatment team will position you on the treatment table. Sometimes a mold or mask is used to make sure you are in the same place each time, and the technologist may place blocks or shields between you and the machine to shield certain parts of your body from the radiation. You will hear the machine working but will not feel anything. Your technologist will then go into another room but will be able to see and speak with you during your treatment.

How Long Is A Treatment Session?

Your treatment depends on the type of radiation you are receiving, the machine being used to give it, and any images that need to be taken before your treatment. Typically your visit runs up to 30 minutes, but the actual treatment takes only a few minutes. Your team will let you know what to expect so you can plan accordingly.

How Often Do I Need To Come For Treatment?

Many external beam radiation therapy regimens require patients to come five days a week for several weeks. Your doctor will let you know the specific schedule for your care.

Is Radiation Therapy Safe?

Radiation therapy is very safe. In fact, it’s one of the oldest forms of cancer treatment, used for over a century. Many advances have occurred during that time to make this treatment as safe as possible, including:

  • Advanced imaging and computer programs that enable your team to carefully plan exactly where the radiation needs to be delivered, and the dose.
  • The design of new equipment that delivers effective doses of radiation with more precision than ever before.
  • Periodic monitoring and checks of equipment and processes to ensure the safety of patients and staff members.

Does Radiation Therapy Cause Side Effects?

Radiation therapy can damage normal cells as well as cancer cells, so your treatment is carefully planned to minimize side effects. Common side effects include skin changes (redness and soreness) and fatigue (feeling tired). Some people who have radiation therapy to the scalp lose hair in the area being treated. Other side effects, depending on the body part being treated, include:

  • Bowel upset
  • Bladder symptoms
  • Nausea
  • Sore mouth or throat

There are medications, creams, and other measures to help with many of these common side effects. Your physician and nurse will address your side effects with you. If you have any questions or concerns at any time before or during your treatment, please discuss them with your team.

Who Is On My Treatment Team?

Radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, radiation oncology nurses, dosimetrists, and medical physicists collaborate to design and deliver your treatment. Nutritionists, social workers, and administrative staff members are available to support your emotional needs and your wellbeing during your care. Learn more.

How Can I Take Care Of Myself During Radiation Treatment?

Your nurses and other members of your treatment team will support you before, during, and after your course of treatment. It will be important for you to:

  • Get lots of rest. Radiation treatment can make you tired.
  • Eat a nutritious diet. It will help you to stay strong and feel well.
  • Take care of your skin in the treatment area. We’ll let you know how.
  • Ask for help if you need it. You don’t have to go through this alone.

Contact us

NewYork-Presbyterian Queens

Our center is easily accessible. We offer free parking, are close to public transportation, and can assist with special transportation arrangements for those who need it.