When a person is diagnosed with cancer, radiation therapy is often a treatment option for their disease. The thought of radiation therapy treatments can sound very scary for a cancer patient and their loved ones. Many questions and concerns come to mind when you hear you need radiation therapy treatments. One common question is, “Will I be radioactive after my treatments and be unable to be near my family and friends?”
The good news is NO, you are not radioactive after your external beam radiation therapy treatments, and YES you can be by your family and friends.
There are two main types of radiation treatments: one is called external beam and the other is called internal radiation therapy. External beam is the most common type of radiation treatment. External beam treatment uses a radiation beam aimed at the area that needs to be treated. The radiation beam is turned on usually for only a few quick seconds. The amount of time the beam is on is determined by the radiation oncologist physician. When the beam is turned off and the treatment is done, there is no more radiation left in the patient. Like turning a light switch on and off; when the radiation beam is off no more radiation is produced and no radiation is left inside the patient.
Internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy, uses a source of radiation which is placed inside the patient as close to the cancer as possible. During this procedure, the patient is temporarily considered radioactive, but when the procedure is over the source is removed from the patient and they are no longer radioactive. For some forms of internal treatment, the radiation source may be left in permanently. When and the patient is able to leave the hospital and discharged home, these patients will be educated on when they are no longer a risk to their friends or family.