Introduction to Radiation Therapy

The Michigan Medicine Department of Radiation Oncology is proud of its status as a leader in treating patients with cancer, a status achieved by providing cutting-edge therapies and compassionate, attentive patient care.

We believe that an important step in providing the best care is helping patients understand the services they are going to receive. As such, we created materials to help you understand and navigate your radiation therapy experience. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Will radiation therapy damage normal tissue?

Radiation therapy is designed to treat tumor-containing tissue. Occasionally, normal tissue receives radiation, too. During radiation treatments, some normal tissues are temporarily irritated. This irritation usually resolves shortly after treatment. Rarely, delayed or chronic complications may occur. Please check with your physician for further information.

How many treatments will I be having and how often?

The number of treatments will vary between individual patients and the various diseases being treated. Some patients receive only a single treatment, others as many as 45. The doctor will review the treatment objectives and goals, and number of treatments being planned for you. Radiation treatments are generally delivered 5 days a week, Monday - Friday, for 2 to 9 weeks, depending on the tumor type and location. Each treatment (from the time you enter to the time you leave the department) takes about 30-60 minutes.

I have a planned vacation. Can I take time off from my radiation therapy treatments?

Radiation treatments provide the optimal outcome if delivered in succession. Breaks in treatment are not in the patient's best interest, unless there is a family crisis or medical reason. Discuss vacation plans with your doctor early in planning.

Are you going to burn me with radiation?

Reactions to radiation vary from patient to patient and are dependent upon the site of treatment. The dose to a given area or depth of tissue determine the skin's surface reaction. Tumors deeper from the surface area, like prostate or endometrial, have very little skin reaction. Tumors closer to the skin surface, like larynx or throat, have the potential for increased skin reaction.

Are there any restrictions on who I may visit, i.e., do I have to stay away from children or pregnant women? Will I "glow in the dark"?

No, patients receiving external beam radiation as outpatients do not become radioactive.

Will I lose my hair?

Radiation usually affects just the area to which it is given. If your head is not being irradiated, you will not lose your hair.

I have heard that radiation can cause cancer. Will I get cancer from this treatment?

There is a very small risk of getting cancer from this treatment. These cancers usually take more than 10 years to develop and occur in the region that was irradiated. Unfortunately, all treatments have side effects, and we are actively researching methods of decreasing those side effects. 

Who do I contact if I miss or need to cancel an appointment?

Please call (734) 936-4300.