Radiation therapy FAQs

At the ONJ Centre we care for people touched by cancer every day and hear many questions. Here are some of the more frequently asked questions. If you do not find the answer you need, we recommend you speak to your doctor, nurse or radiation therapist.

Radiation therapy is painless during the delivery of treatment. Some side effects can cause discomfort and should be discussed with your treatment team.

The side effects vary depending on which parts of the body are being treated. These will be discussed with you prior to treatment commencing so you know what to expect. If you have any concerns along the way, please talk to your treatment team.

Radiation therapy only affects the part of your body being treated. If hair is included in the treatment area, the hair in that area will fall out. The amount depends on the size of the area being treated and the radiation dose it receives. The hair will usually grow back slowly several months after treatment is complete.

No, you are not radioactive after you leave the treatment room. The radiation is only being delivered when the x-ray machine (linear accelerator) is turned on.  You may safely be near children or a pregnant family member throughout your treatment period. 

This depends on the type of cancer and aim of your treatment. The prescribed radiation therapy is to suit your needs. This may be a single treatment, or up to 8 weeks of treatments, delivered 5 days per week, Monday to Friday.

The Planning CT Scan (and MRI scan if required) may take 1 to 2 hours. This is because we often make individual equipment to help you to stay in the correct position.

Radiation therapy treatment usually takes 10-30 minutes, but we ask you to allow at least an hour if your have other appointments. You may have regular appointments with our social workers, nurses, dieticians, occupational therapists and doctors during the treatment course. 
Yes, unless told not to by your doctor. If you are feeling tired or unwell, perhaps ask a friend or family member to bring you instead. Parking is available at the hospital at a discounted rate.

Yes, as long as you feel able to. Patients often experience fatigue as a side effect of treatment. If you are experiencing fatigue, or any other side effects, you may wish to take a break from work. 

Yes, you can continue to eat as normal. If required, you may see a dietitian who can provide advice about nutrition, weight stability and healthy eating during treatment.

Swimming is not recommended during a course of radiation therapy. Chlorinated water can irritate your skin in the area being treated.

Yes, it is important that you continue to take all your normal prescribed medications while you are having a course of radiation therapy treatment unless otherwise directed. It is also important that you inform your radiation oncologist about these medications.

All cells growing in your body must reproduce in order to survive. To reproduce, they require genetic material called DNA which lies within each cell. Radiation therapy works because cancer cells are less able to repair radiation damage that occurs to their DNA but normal healthy cells can.

The highest doses of radiation are aimed at the cancer cells. Your radiation therapy treatment plan avoids as much normal tissue as possible by aiming the radiation beam from different angles and precisely shaping the beams around the tumour. Delivering radiation therapy treatment over several days or weeks also allows healthy tissues time to repair themselves.

Radiation is all around us in nature. However, only some types of radiation can be used to treat cancer. A Linear Accelerator is the machine used to deliver high energy x-rays which damage cancer cells. This type of radiation therapy may be called External Beam, Megavoltage or Photon Beam.

To treat skin cancers, lower energy x-rays are needed, so that the skin surface is treated, leaving the internal healthy tissues undamaged. This type of radiation therapy is called Superficial/Orthovoltage X-Ray Therapy.

For some internal cancers, it is possible to use a radioactive substance to treat the cancer from inside the body. This type of radiation therapy is called Brachytherapy.

Some patients will experience fatigue during radiation therapy treatment. Fatigue can occur due to a number of reasons, including poor nutrition, sleeplessness due to worry, symptoms or side effects, or due to the increased efforts by your body to repair itself during treatment.

For most patients, fatigue will reduce within a few weeks of completing treatment. If fatigue is a concern for you, please let your treatment team know.

Very rarely. Modern radiation therapy techniques (including precise treatment planning and imaging) minimise the risks of radiation therapy causing cancer.

Yes, however this depends on the dose of radiation and the part of your body requiring treatment. We take extra care to make sure that the dose of radiation you have is safe for you.

For certain types of cancer, a combination of radiation therapy, surgery and/or chemotherapy is more effective than having just one type of treatment.

Chemotherapy is a drug treatment which circulates around the whole body through the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used when cancer may have spread to another location in the body. When given at the same time as radiation therapy, chemotherapy can also increase the effectiveness of radiation on cancer cells.

Surgery can be very effective to remove tumours from the body. Sometimes radiation therapy is used to make a tumour smaller before surgery or as an extra precaution in case any cancer cells were left behind after surgery.


Radiation Oncology, ONJ Centre

+61 3 9496 2800

Monday to Friday 8am-5.30pm

Radiation Oncology, Ballarat-Austin Radiation Oncology Centre

+61 3 5320 8600

Monday to Friday 8am-5.30pm

Want to learn more?

'Targeting Cancer' is an Australian and New Zealand initative to improve knowledge and awareness of radiation therapy.

Can't find what you need?

At the ONJ Centre in Melbourne, we have an information lounge on Level 3 with an extensive range or resources to help those living with cancer and undergoing treatment. For more information resources online, we recommend you explore trusted, credible websites. See radiation oncology patient resources or our ONJ Centre recommended website guide.