Some Helpful Questions to Ask if You Have Cancer and Need Radiation

How to stay informed and in charge

Person lies in radiation machine with face covered by protective netting as lasers scan body

When you’re going through cancer treatment, it’s important to ask any and all questions you have. It will help you prepare yourself while also allowing your family to understand how to best support you.


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In particular, you want to be sure you understand any cancer treatment you’ll receive, including its benefits, drawbacks and side effects. You also want to prepare for the day-to-day impact on your schedule and life.

How radiation therapy works

Has your doctor recommended radiation therapy? This treatment uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells.

There are three main categories of radiation therapy: external beam, internal radiation, and systemic radiation. About half of patients receive some type of radiation therapy during treatment. Find out more about each type of radiation therapy.

Some questions you can ask

Not sure what to ask your doctor about radiation? Find some suggestions below. You can bring a notebook with you to write down answers, or even enlist a loved one to come along and take notes.

  1. How does radiation work?
  2. What type of radiation will I receive?
  3. Where will I receive treatment?
  4. How long will the sessions take?
  5. How many treatments will I need?
  6. How flexible is the radiation schedule?
  7. Can I work while receiving radiation?
  8. What are the possible side effects?
  9. Will the side effects impact my life?
  10. How can I best manage the side effects?
  11. Are there any restrictions before, during or after radiation?
  12. Who can I call if I have more questions?

In general, keeping a line of communication with your doctor and healthcare team will help you through the treatments. It’s also important to understand the overall goal of each treatment.

From the book The Complete Cancer Organizer by Jamie L. Schwachter, BSN, MSN, CNP and Josette M.Snyder, BSN, MSN, AOCN


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