Frequently Asked Questions

Please do not hesitate to ask questions at any time. Here are some of the more frequently asked questions:

What is cancer?

Cancer is a group of many diseases characterized by an uncontrolled growth and potential spread of abnormal cells.

What is radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy is one of the most effective treatments for helping people with cancer. Radiation is the use of high-energy X-rays or electrons to treat malignant tumors and in some patients’ benign conditions. Radiation works by destroying the ability of the tumor’s cancerous cells to grow and reproduce. It can slow or stop tumor growth and prevent cancerous cells from spreading into normal body tissues. In many patients, radiation therapy can completely destroy the cancerous tumor.

Sometimes radiation therapy is used in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy (drugs) or hyperthermia (heat). Radiation therapy may shrink a tumor before it is removed or keep any remaining cancerous cells from growing after surgery.

How does radiation therapy work?

Radiation therapy kills cancer cells by damaging DNA, the cell’s genetic code. Radiation affects all dividing cells, both normal and abnormal. This therapy is useful for treating cancer because cancer cells grow and divide more rapidly than many of the normal cells around them. Although some normal cells are affected by radiation, most normal cells appear to recover more fully from the effects of radiation than do cancer cells.

Am I radioactive?

No, you are not radioactive, and you will not be a danger to anyone during or after your course of radiation therapy delivered by beams.

Will I feel the radiation?

Similar to having a routine X-ray, there is no sensation during the time you receive the radiation.

Will I need X-rays or blood work during treatment?

Blood tests may be done when indicated to check your blood counts. Your doctor may also order other diagnostic tests or scans throughout your course of treatment depending on your specific condition.

Will I lose my hair if I receive radiation?

Only hair within the radiation port will be affected by treatment. You will lose scalp hair only if you are receiving radiation to your head. If the entire brain needs to be treated, the radiation can affect the entire scalp. But only a part of the scalp may be affected if a smaller portion of the brain is radiated. Whether the hair loss is temporary or permanent depends on the dosage.

Can a family member or friend accompany me during my visit?

Many patients like to ask a family member or friend to accompany them, and our waiting area is sufficient for one or two family members or friends. In order to protect the privacy of all patients, relatives and friends are not allowed to enter the treatment area.  While you are being examined or when you talk with your physician, you may choose whether you wish to have a family member present. The physician will respect your choice.

Can I exercise while receiving radiation therapy?

If you exercised routinely before your radiation therapy began you may try to continue. You are the best judge of what you feel like doing. Don’t hesitate to ask the physicians or nurses if you have questions.

Why am I receiving two bills?

Your radiation oncologists are Washington University physicians, on the faculty of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and St. Louis Children’s Hospital. In addition, our faculty members pursue scholarly interests, including clinical research, basic research and medical education. Our physicians use radiation therapy equipment and the Barnes-Jewish Hospital technical staff to assist in your treatment. Because of this, you will receive two separate bills for these services: one bill from Washington University Physicians for the professional care provided to you by the medical staff, and another bill from Barnes-Jewish Hospital for use of the facilities and technical services. You will also receive a description of hospital services and charges, but this is not your bill.

For more information, please contact our Patient Accounts staff.

When will I get my treatment schedule?

The start date for your treatment will be given to you by the therapists at the time of your simulation. After that, your weekly schedule will be given to you on Thursday of the week prior.

I would like to make a financial gift to the Department of Radiation Oncology. Who should I contact?

We appreciate your interest and support of our department!

Make a gift to Washington University School of Medicine »