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Managing Your Medical Care: Breast Cancer: Once A Treatment Decision Is Made

If You Are Going To Have Radiation Treatment

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  • Set a treatment schedule that works for you as well as the facility. As a general matter, radiation treatments are scheduled at the same time every day for a period of weeks. Set a time slot that fits for your life. If the time isn't immediately available, check to find out how long you can wait to start treatment without affecting the effectiveness of your treatment. Perhaps the time slot will become available in time. If not, consider using another radiation facility in your area.
  • Schedule a dental check up. Oral infections can worsen the effects of radiation.
    • Speak with your cancer doctor about possible oral complications from your treatment and what, if anything, your dentist should focus on prior to treatment.
    • Get an examination of your mouth, teeth and jawbone to check for potential problems that may arise during treatment. Tell the dentist you are about to have treatment for lung cancer and tell him or her the treatment(s) you have agreed to.
    • Mention to your dentist the risks for oral complications your doctor told you about.
    • If you have issues that could become a problem during treatment, take care of them now. Find out from your dentist how much time is needed for your mouth to heal properly. It is preferable for healing to be complete before treatment begins.
    • If your doctor recommends that you speak with a dental oncologist  (a dentist who is trained in dental and oral care for people with cancer): Use the same technique to find the right dental oncologist as is recommended for choosing any medical specialist. See How To Choose A Specialist. You can locate a dental oncologist through any of the following:
      • A referral from your cancer doctor.
      • National Cancer Institute offsite link or Tel.: 800.422.6237.
      • National Comprehensive Cancer Network, offsite link, or Tel.: 215.690.0300.
  • Practice good oral hygiene. Good oral hygiene will reduce your chances of getting tooth decay, mouth sores and, most important, infections. Experts recommend that you brush your teeth after every meal and at bedtime. Use a soft toothbrush and toothpaste with fluoride in it.  Floss once a day. For more informatoin, click here.
  • Find out if there are any medications, supplements, herbs or vitamins you take that should be discontinued during treatment. If there are, check with the doctor who prescribed them to let him or her know what is happening and find out if you should be doing something else during treatment.
  • If you will undergo radiation treatment to the lymph node area of the underarm, Lymphedema And Breast Cancer In Women tells you about Lymphedema (swelling of the lymph glands).  To learn how to prevent it see: How To Prevent And Control Lymphedema. The preventive steps are well worth taking. Lymphedema is temporary, but can last for a while. Lymphedema is not life threatening, but it is not fun.
  • Learn about and prepare for possible side effects. For instance:
    • Speak with the radiologist about creams to purchase to reduce possible skin soreness. Test a small amount to be sure you don't have any adverse effects.
    • Fatigue generally accompanies radiation treatment. Start making room in your schedule for rest.
    • Get a prescription for nausea “just in case.”  If you have a prescription, you can fill it without delay if the need arises. Prescriptions don't cost anything until you have them filled.       
    • For more information, see: Side Effects And How To Deal With Them
  • If you smoke, use the treatment as a trigger to stop. 
    • Stopping can help improve the body’s response to treatment, and lessen complications and side effects. 
    • If you quit permanently, stopping can decrease the risk of recurrence and enhance survival.
    • For information about quitting, click here.
  • If you use recreational drugs, let your doctor know. They may interfere with treatment.
  • If you want to have children in the future, ask if a treatment could affect your ability to have them. If so, consider freezing your eggs before treatment starts. For information, see: Children: Preserving the Ability to Have
  • Consider taking a tour of the area where radiation will be administered and any other location where you will be spending time. This way you will know what to expect. You'll also get a better idea of what to bring with you to make yourself comfortable.
  • It may make it easier for you if you line up a family member or friend to go with you to the first treatment. After that it may be easier if you go to treatments alone. Going alone makes going for treatment more like going to a standard doctor's appointment. You will likely find other people going through the same treatment with whom to have an informal support group.
  • If you are uncomfortable in institutional hospital gowns, consider creating your own or purchasing one that will be more comfortable than the one supplied by the facility. You can find gowns online(for example, through offsite link) or create your own. For a pattern, click here.
  • Think about how you are going to get to and from appointments. If needed, American Cancer Society can help arrange transportation with its group of volunteer drivers. Call 800.ACS.2345. The more notice you give the Society, the more likely it can find a volunteer to fill your needs. The Society can also point you to available public transportation in your area.
  • Ask your doctor about changes to start making in your diet to build your system with nutrients that the treatment may affect. The doctor may recommend you speak with a nutritionist/dietitian. Perhaps you should also be taking a multi-vitamin and/or supplements.
  • Stock up on your comfort foods, including some in your freezer that you can defrost as needed. When you freeze foods for this period, make the portions smaller than usual for those occasions when you don't feel like eating a lot.
  • If you have children, and haven't told them yet about your condition and/or treatment, now is the time to do it in an age sensitive manner. See Children: How To Tell About Your Condition And Why
  • Schedule doctor appointments for your convenience.
    • An appointment early in the day or at the beginning of that part of the day when the doctor sees patients generally gets you in and out quickly. Doctors' schedules tend to back up as the day progresses.
    • If you have appointments with different doctors and/or tests coming up, consider scheduling them for the same day, or only setting doctor appointments for the same day every week.
  • Last, but not least, think about payment.
    • If you have a health insurance policy, check it to determine how much, if at all, you will be out of pocket and start thinking about how to pay those costs. 

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