What to Expect from Radiation Treatment

You probably don’t know what to expect when going into radiation therapy for the first time. It is okay to be a little uneasy; below are some insights from the American Cancer Society and WhatNexters that may help.

WhatNexter’s recommend reading the American Cancer Society’s Guide to Radiation Therapy. It provides insight on what it is, how it helps, and deeper discussion on the treatment.

Radiation Therapy

The first source to go for questions about what to expect from radiation therapy is your doctor. Here is a preview of questions that the American Cancer Society suggests asking before beginning treatment.

  • What is the goal of my radiation therapy?
  • How will I get radiation, how often, and for how long?
  • What side effects can I expect?

Additional information below from WhatNext does not represent medical advice and all input is from WhatNexters themselves.

Some WhatNexters have felt nervous when going through their first radiation treatment but say that they have gotten more comfortable after each treatment.

My radiation oncologist made me feel comfortable. I was glad that there was a "simulation" appointment in the beginning, so I was able to get a good sense of what would happen during the actual treatment. I was covered well and did not feel exposed - they made it as dignified as possible.” -- joachima thumbnail Joachima, Undifferentiated Endometrial Stromal Sarcoma

Skin Reactions

Side effects are different for everyone. A common side effect are skin reactions which have been likened to sunburn. If you experience reactions you can ask your medical team for suggestions; as always be sure to consult your doctor before trying anything.

Related Questions: Beginning radiation - any specific tips? and Does anyone have advice about radiation skin reactions?


“I was going through radiation in my last treatments, after 2 weeks of it, I had to take a nap everyday at 2, like clock work, I got droopy and went home.” -- gregp_wn thumbnail GregP_WN, Hodgkin Disease, Stage II

Another common side effect of radiation therapy is fatigue. Many WhatNexters would prepare for the fatigue ahead of time by planning time after treatment to rest.

Ways to Take Care of Yourself During Radiation

It is important to take care of yourself during radiation. Ask your doctor or nurses for specific tips on what to do. The American Cancer Society offers these tips:

  • Get rest. If you feel more tired than normal it is important to get enough rest during the day and sleep at night.
  • Eat well. Be mindful of what you are eating and talk to your doctor about getting the nutrients you need to feel stronger, especially if you experience side effects that keep you from eating.
  • Take care of the skin where you are being treated. Clean your skin per your nurse’s suggestion. Ask your doctor about other products that will help treat your skin.
  • Wear loose fitting clothes. This is a practical suggestion because tight fitting clothes can rub and irritate the treatment area.
  • Protect your skin during sun exposure.

Radiation therapy can affect everyone differently. While the treatment may be unfamiliar, it may help to go in with a positive outlook that this treatment will help you reach your end goal. How did radiation affect you? Do you have any suggestions on what new patients can expect from radiation therapy or what they can do to prepare themselves? We would love to hear about your own experience.

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    • Jesse0218's Avatar

      I just ended up in Physical Therapy a year after finishing radiation for problems with my shoulder caused by radiation. I asked if they see much of this problem or is it because I'm so active. They said they're seeing more and more people with frozen shoulders, etc. They also found some 'cording' starting, that I didn't know I have. The nerve gets scar tissue covering it and it has to be stretched out. Never heard of this before I got it either. When I'm done the 8 weeks, they'll give me exercises I'll have to do the rest of my life to keep these problems from coming back. Could be worse though. At least I'm enjoying living life to the fullest, doing whatever I want to do, including riding horses again after 15 - 20 years.

      over 1 year ago
    • mignonne15's Avatar

      I had radiation last year for 20 days and I would like to know if I could take the sun this coming summer, thanks

      11 months ago
    • fluteplayer's Avatar

      I had,radiation on my hip and shoulder and it made the pain worse. Also now I have numb breast and starting to go across my back. Feels like your foot when it goes asleep. Very annoying but no pain. Can't sleep with it. Up almost all night.

      4 months ago