FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Radiation therapy

Chemotherapy

Radiation therapy

What is radiation therapy?
Radiation is a special kind of energy carried by waves or a stream of particles. It is a local treatment that is delivered to a specific place in the body. It can come from machines (x-ray machines) or from radioactive substances (radioactive seeds). When radiation is used at high doses, it can treat cancer or provide relief of symptoms caused by cancer.

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How does radiation work?
Radiation therapy uses high-energy, invisible rays to fight cancer. Radiation works by changing the chemical and genetic structure of the cell. Radiation affects both cancerous and normal cells that are in the path of the radiation beam. Cancer cells are more easily damaged than normal cells. Normal cells also have a greater ability to repair themselves.

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What to expect on the first visit:
Initial consultation: Your treatment planning begins when you first meet with the radiation oncologist. At the first visit, the doctor will examine you, review your medical history, and study the results of x-rays and other diagnostic tests. Your doctor will use the information from this visit to plan the type of therapy you will need. The doctor and nurse will provide you with specific information about radiation therapy, how many treatments you will require and side effects that may occur during radiation. Most patients do not receive any treatment on their first visit.

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Your second visit to radiation oncology:
Simulation/markings: Your next visit to radiation oncology will begin your treatment planning process. Simulation is an important step in this process because it determines what will occur during your actual treatment. During simulation, the therapist will determine your exact position on the treatment table, measurements will be taken and molds will be made, utilizing a machine called a CT simulator. Marks may be placed on your skin to outline the area of treatment.

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Finalizing your treatment plan:
After simulation, the radiation oncologist will consult with the dosimetrist and physicist and finalize an overall treatment plan. Once your treatment plan is finalized, a therapist will call you and set up your daily appointments.

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How treatment is given:
The total dose of radiation and the number of treatments you will need depends on the size and location of your cancer, the type of cancer, your general health and other treatments you have had or will be receiving. In general, most treatments are given five days a week (Monday through Friday) for several weeks. Spreading the total radiation dose over a number of treatments increases the chance of destroying all of the tumor, while causing the least amount of damage to healthy tissues.

Treatments are given Monday through Friday. The department is not open weekends or holidays. Your treatment time will be at the same time every day. If you have another appointment that conflicts with your daily treatment appointment, discuss this with the therapist. An alternative time can be arranged. Your therapist is responsible for orienting you to the treatment process.

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During your radiation treatment course:
Once a week during your treatment, you will be seen by your physician and nurse. Your doctor, or one of their associates, will see you anytime you have a problem. These visits are a good time to ask questions or voice concerns. Your doctor may also order a weekly blood draw, which will be done in the Radiation Oncology Department.

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General side effects of Radiation therapy:

  • Fatigue is expected during cancer treatments due to the body’s hard work in trying to fight the cancer and repair the damage to normal tissues. Drinking about 8-eight ounce glasses of water and other liquids helps to fight fatigue. In addition, doing a moderate amount of exercise (like walking) for short periods helps to maintain your energy. If needed, taking a nap, no longer than 20 minutes, will also help reenergize you.
  • Loss of appetite may occur because of the cancer, the treatment, or both. Maintaining a diet high in calories and protein is helpful during treatment. The calories provide energy while the protein helps normal cells to repair. If you have difficulty eating, please bring this to the attention of the doctor or nurse. A registered dietician will set up a consult to talk with you about healthy eating and nutrition.
  • Skin reactions that occur in the treatment area are expected. Not all treatment areas will get skin reactions. Skin reactions are dependent on the area being treated and the dose of radiation being given. The nurse will give you special skin care instructions.
  • Other side effects: There are a number of other side effects you may experience, but they depend on the area being treated. Your radiation oncologist and nurse will review these will you at the time of your first visit.
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General Information:
  • The Radiation Oncology Department is located on the ground floor of the Center for Cancer Care. The center is located in the atrium of Oakwood Hospital & Medical Center, adjacent to the visitor parking structure.
  • Parking for radiation oncology patients is in the physician parking area located on the west side of the hospital, adjacent to the cancer center entrance.
  • A satellite facility is located at Oakwood Healthcare Center-Southgate.
  • Radiation oncology patients do not have to register at Outpatient Registration. When you come to the hospital on your first visit, go directly to the Radiation Oncology Department waiting area.
  • If you are unable to keep a scheduled appointment, please call:
    313.593.7335 for
    Oakwood Hospital & Medical Center – Dearborn
    734.246.8180 for
    Oakwood Hospital–Southgate
  • On your first visit, please bring:
    • Insurance card
    • Driver’s license
    • Any referral from your primary care doctor
    • Name, address and phone number of your physician
    • List of medications you are currently taking
    • Medical records, pathology slides, radiology films
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Chemotherapy

What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a drug that kills cancer cells in the body. It can be given as an IV fluid into the blood stream, as an injection or in pill form. Chemotherapy is given to cure cancer, to control cancer and to help alleviate symptoms caused by cancer.

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How does chemotherapy work?
Healthy cells in the body grow by dividing and multiplying. Cancer cells multiply rapidly and grow without control. Chemotherapy works to prevent these cells from dividing and multiplying. Chemotherapy cannot tell the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells therefore, healthy cells are also destroyed by the chemotherapy agents. Harm to “good” cells is what results in side effects. Healthy cells have a greater ability to restore and repair themselves than cancer cells. As a result, most side effects go away after treatment is complete.

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How is chemotherapy given?
Chemotherapy is given as an IV fluid into the blood stream. In some cases, it can also be an injection given into the soft tissue or muscle of the body, or in a pill form. It is often administered in combination with two or more drugs called combination chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can also be given in combination with radiation therapy for optimal affect. Often, when receiving chemotherapy, you will receive one or two additional drugs to help minimize the side effects caused by the treatment. The treatment drugs, timing, and quantities are determined by the cancer type, stage and prognosis of the patient. Each individual will receive information and education from their physician as to what the best treatment for them will be.

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General side effects of chemotherapy:
Because chemotherapy affects rapidly growing cells in the body, it can impact normal cells that are fast growing and cause multiple side effects. Some of the side effects are listed below. Keep in mind that chemotherapy affects each person differently and the type of drug, dose of the drug and length of time the drug is given, all affect your body’s response to the drug.

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Low white blood count:
Chemotherapy affects the cells in your bone marrow and may cause your white blood count to drop. Your white blood cells help to fight infection in the body, and therefore, a drop may make you more likely to have an infection. An infection can occur due to normal bacteria on the surface of the body or may be the result of exposure to someone that is sick. When undergoing chemotherapy, it is recommended that patients follow some simple guidelines to help prevent them from becoming infected:

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Avoid areas where large crowds may be (movies, concerts, shopping malls, etc.)
  • Avoid nicks, cuts, tears in your skin
  • Avoid young children who may have recently been vaccinated with live virus’
  • Avoid people who are ill with colds, flu, measles, chicken pox
The following symptoms may indicate that you have an infection. Call your physician if you experience the following:
  • Fever over 100° F or 38° C
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Loose bowel movement
  • Frequent urgency to urinate or burning when you urinate
  • Severe cough or sore throat
  • Redness, swelling or tenderness especially around a wound, sore, ostomy, pimple, rectal area or catheter site
  • Earache
  • Mouth sores

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Low red blood count:
Chemotherapy affects the cells in your bone marrow and may cause your red blood cell count to drop. Red blood cells use iron to help carry oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the body. A drop in your red blood cells can result in anemia.

The following symptoms may indicate you have a low red blood count or are anemic. Call your physician if you experience the following:

  • Feeling weak
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling cold
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Low platelet count:
Platelets clump together to form a clot which stops bleeding in your body. Many drugs affect your platelets’ ability to stop bleeding. Some drugs reduce the actual number of platelets. Other drugs, such as aspirin, stop the platelets from clumping together so that the platelets cannot form a clot to stop the bleeding. Below are some guidelines to prevent bleeding:

  • Do not take any medicines without first checking with your doctor. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
  • Do not take aspirin or products that contain aspirin (or salicylic acid) such as cold medicine.
  • Do not drink alcohol without your doctor’s approval.
  • Use an electric razor to shave to reduce your rick of cutting your skin.
  • If you have problems with bleeding gums, use a swab, not a toothbrush to clean your teeth.
  • If you suffer from nosebleeds, use a humidifier or vaporizer to raise the humidity in your home.
If you experience the following, call your physician:
  • Unusual bleeding from gums, nose, rectum
  • Bruising easily, or bruises that get larger
  • Small red spots, especially on forearms, shins and chest
  • Black, tarry stools
If you have bleeding that you cannot control within five minutes – call your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room.

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Fatigue:
Fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer and its treatment. It may be caused by anemia, which means there are fewer red blood cells circulating oxygen to the body. Fatigue can also be caused by malnutrition (not eating enough). Trying to maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise may help reduce fatigue. If you experience the following symptoms along with the fatigue, call your physician:
  • Frequent dizziness
  • Falling followed by injury or mental confusion
  • Inability to wake up
  • Shortness of breath
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Hair Loss:
Some chemotherapy treatments can cause complete or partial hair loss. This hair loss may start as early as seven to 14 days after the first treatment, and hair will not grow back until treatments are finished. When hair grows back, it may be a different color and different texture. Color and texture changes are usually not permanent.

Some things you can do to care for your hair and scalp:
  • Use mild shampoos and conditioners
  • Consider getting a shorter hairstyle before treatment begins
  • Use a soft hairbrush
  • Use a satin pillow while sleeping
  • Use scarves or hats to protect your hair and scalp from the sun
  • Consider wearing a wig
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Mouth sores:
Chemotherapy affects the rapidly growing cells of our body, including the mouth and throat. Mouth problems related to cancer treatments can be very painful and can interfere with eating and swallowing. Mouth sores can develop and take longer to heal as a result of chemotherapy.

Things you can do to help prevent or deal with a sore mouth or mouth sores:
  • Using a soft toothbrush, clean your teeth after meals and at bedtime
  • Do not use commercial mouthwashes, containing alcohol, such as Cepacol, Listerine, Scope
  • Do not use lemon-glycerin swabs
  • Drink plenty of liquids
  • Eat ice chips, Popsicles or frozen drinks
  • Eat soft bland foods
  • Use a mouthwash as recommended by your nurse or oncologist
Things to report to your doctor include:
  • Temperature above 100.5° F
  • Dry mouth
  • White patches in mouth, on gums or on tongue
  • Difficulty swallowing, eating or drinking fluids
  • Sore or painful throat
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Nausea and Vomiting:
While much has been learned about how to control both of these symptoms, some people may deal with one or both symptoms at different times during their treatments. Things you can do to limit nausea and vomiting:
  • Take your anti-nausea medicine as prescribed by your physician. Anti-nausea medicine should be taken on a regular schedule to be effective
  • Try Saltine or soda crackers; dry toast or cereal; low fat foods; cooked, tender vegetables; poached or soft cooked eggs; mashed potatoes; chicken without skin
  • Avoid greasy, fried foods; high fat foods; spicy foods; carbonated drinks; gas producing foods
  • Eat slowly and chew food well
  • Avoid unpleasant or strong odors
  • Wear loose fitting clothing
  • Try eating three to four hours prior to treatment rather than just before treatment
What you should report:
  • Nausea and/or vomiting that is not controlled by the above suggestions and lasts more than 24 hours
  • Vomiting blood
  • Nausea and/or vomiting that prevents you from eating and/or drinking
  • Weight loss of more than two pounds in one week
  • Signs of dehydration: very dry mouth, weakness or decreased amount of urine

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Diarrhea:
Cancer treatments, cancer medicines, and other medicines can cause diarrhea which can add to fatigue and cause dehydration. Medicine may be necessary to slow the bowel movements. Take anti-diarrhea medicines as prescribed by your doctor. Do not use over-the-counter medicines without checking with your doctor. When diarrhea begins:

  • Follow a clear liquid diet
  • Avoid milk and dairy products
  • Take liquids at room temperature
When diarrhea slows:
  • Eat small frequent meals
  • Include bland, soft, low fiber foods such as applesauce, bananas, dry toast or crackers, mashed potatoes
  • Avoid high roughage and high fiber foods such as raw vegetables, raw fruit, bean, bran or meats
  • Continue to take extra fluids throughout the day
  • Avoid alcohol or caffeine
Call your doctor if any of the following conditions exist:
  • Severe diarrhea with frequent runny stools and abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea for more than one day
  • Blood in the stool
  • Fever of 100.5° F or above
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When to call your doctor:
During cancer treatments, you need to call your doctor if you experience any of the following side effects:
  • A temperature higher than 100.5° F, or shaking chills
  • Any unusual bruising or bleeding
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sores or ulcers in your mouth, or a sore mouth or throat
  • Severe diarrhea, meaning four or more watery bowel movements per day longer than 48 hours
  • Severe constipation for two days that has not been relieved
  • Numbness or tingling in your feet or hands
  • Vomiting that lasts longer than 24 hours following your treatment
  • Any changes in your skin or vision
  • Any other changes in your health that concern you
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