Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsCancer is now seen as a chronic disease. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that one in five men and one in six women worldwide will develop cancer over the course of their lifetime. A growing ageing population globally and an increase in exposure to cancer risk factors are cited as the main causes for this. It is generally accepted that 50% to 60% of cancer patients should receive radiation therapy as part of their cancer management. Radiation therapy is an important part of multimodality cancer treatment, which means using more than one type of treatment to treat cancer. But barriers exist in many countries in accessing radiation therapy.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 secondsThis can deprive patients of the benefits of radiation therapy and can impact on their health. It is important that patients and the public are aware of radiation therapy as an effective and efficient part of the cancer management pathway. If you or someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer, you have the right to be informed of all potential treatment options open to you, including radiation therapy. Once you have been given a cancer diagnosis, you will informed about your treatment options. These can differ depending on your diagnosis and is often a challenging time. It can be difficult to know what to do next.

Skip to 1 minute and 24 secondsWhen I was told about radiation therapy and what it involved, I suppose the whole-- I can't remember the actual day or anything like that. But I do remember them telling me all about it. My radiation oncologist was kind of going through the symptoms and how it would affect my body and things like that. And I remember kind of going, who is he-- like, what is this? A complete disbelief that I was going to have to go through this. I had never even heard of radiation therapy in my life. There was also that sense of invincibility, that I'm young.

Skip to 2 minutes and 2 secondsI was appalled when they told me I couldn't go travelling for the summer with my friends when they were all going Interrailing in Europe. I couldn't understand why they couldn't hold off on my treatment until I came back. Now it's laughable, of course. But at the time, I was very annoyed. My preparation for treatment was very, very quick. But I was grateful for that, because I got into treatment more quickly. One of the things I noticed was that, from the moment I was told that I had cancer, I found it hard to concentrate on what the doctors and the nurses were telling me. And I often had trouble remembering what they said.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 secondsI was lucky in that I had my best friend from school and also my partner and one other friend who came with me in sort of a roster to every appointment. So I was never by myself. And they were able to take notes, because I found very quickly that I had trouble remembering what people were saying. It's a good idea to meet with your family doctor and ask them questions about your treatment options. You should write down your questions and also the answers, as it is often hard to remember all the information you are given. Here are some suggestions of questions you may want to ask your family doctor. What treatment options are available to me?

Skip to 3 minutes and 23 secondsIs my cancer suitable to receive radiation therapy as a treatment? What is the aim of radiation treatment? Will I have just radiation therapy, or do I also need other treatments? Does radiation therapy kill the cancer cells? Is radiation therapy as effective as other treatments if used on its own? What are the chances that it will treat the cancer and stop the spread? If I don't have the treatment, what are the chances that it will spread? Does radiation therapy have side effects? How long do side effects last? Can I carry on working? Does the treatment take a long time? Do I need to make changes to my lifestyle, or can I carry on as normal?

Skip to 4 minutes and 7 secondsYou can print out these questions at the bottom of this step to bring with you. Once you've agreed that radiation therapy is an option for you, you will be referred to a radiation oncologist, who will meet with you and design a personalised treatment plan.

Starting radiation therapy

As Michelle and Claire spoke about in the video, Radiation Therapy is an important part of multimodality cancer treatment. This means using more than one type of treatment to treat cancer.

We also heard from Róisín and Julie about their feelings about starting radiation therapy and when they were diagnosed.

Right at the start of your cancer treatment, we recommend that you speak with your doctor, and ask him/her about your treatment options.

Although we will be looking at many of these questions in this course, there are many different types of cancer, and treatment options. Try to be prepared when you are visiting your doctor, and take notes to the following questions.

Talking to your doctor

Here are some questions you may like to ask your doctor about cancer treatment.

  • What treatment options are available to me?

  • Is my cancer suitable to receive radiation therapy as a treatment?

  • What is the aim of radiation treatment?

  • Will I have just radiation therapy or do I also need other treatments?

  • Does radiation therapy kill the cancer cells?

  • Is radiation therapy as effective as other treatments if used on its own?

  • What are the chances that it will treat the cancer and stop the spread? If I don’t have the treatment what are chances it will spread?

  • Does radiation therapy have side effects?

  • How long do side effects last?

  • Can I carry on working? Does the treatment take a long time?

  • Do I need to make changes to my lifestyle or can I carry on as normal?

You can download these questions to print out and bring with you here.

In the comments section below:

  • What other questions do you think might be important to ask your doctor about radiation therapy treatment?
  • Have you, or someone you know, had radiation therapy? Share any helpful tips with other learners from when you started your treatment.

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This video is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Radiation Oncology: From Diagnosis to Survivorship

Trinity College Dublin