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Radiation Therapy

What Happens During External Radiation Treatment?

Last modified: 
24/04/2012 - 12:36

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

The most common type of machine used for external beam radiation is a linear accelerator. The prescribed dose of radiation is carefully programmed into the radiation therapy machine before your treatment.

For each session, you will change into a hospital gown or robe. Once in the treatment room, you will lie down on a treatment table. The radiation therapist positions you using the marks on your skin and customized molded forms that help you stay in place. The rest of your body is protected by shields placed between you and the machine.

During Treatment

Though you will be in the treatment room for up to 30 minutes, you receive radiation for only a few minutes. Much of the time will be spent correctly positioning you on the treatment table. During the session, the table may be moved to deliver radiation at multiple angles.

The machines used for radiation treatments are large and noisy. Their size and motion may be frightening at first, but most people get used to this. You can talk to the therapist through a microphone, and he or she can see you through a window.

radiation oncology nurse will be available at each treatment session, helping to explain treatments, answering questions and helping you manage side effects.

During your weeks of treatment, you may also meet:

  • A physician's assistant, who can perform exams and other duties
  • radiologist, who can read x-ray and other diagnostic images
  • A dietitian, who offers nutritional advice
  • A physical therapist, to address any problems with movements or muscles
  • A social worker, to attend to the emotional and psychological stresses of living with cancer

Nice To Know:

Receiving external radiation treatments is just like having an X-ray taken. The procedure is painless, and you will not hear, see, or smell the radiation.

How To Information:

Stay very still during the treatment so the radiation reaches the exact spot where treatment is needed. Don't hold your breath - just breathe normally.

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.