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Questions to Ask Before Deciding About Radiation Treatment

Internal Radiation

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Following are questions to consider asking with respect to internal radiation: 
  • What is internal radiation therapy?
  • Why do I need radiation therapy?
  • What is the goal of this treatment?
    • What are the chances we will reach the goal?
    • If the goal is to get rid of the cancer, what are chances it will return?
  • Why are you suggesting internal radiation instead of external radiation?
  • Please describe the treatment in terms I can understand. (Ask that visual aides be used if necessary)
    • What will be implanted in my body?
    • Where will it be implanted?
    • I understand surgery will be necessary to implant the radioactive material. Will it be on an outpatient or in patient basis? If in patient, how long will I be in the hospital? Will I be able to have visitors after the implant is done?
    • Who will do the surgery?
    • How will we know if the treatment is working? When will we know?
    • How long will the material remain in my body?
    • If the material will only be in my body temporarily, how will it be removed? When?
  • What are the alternatives to the proposed radiation treatment?
  • What are the possible risks involved in undergoing the proposed radiation treatment?
  • What are the short term side effects? How do we treat them? (For information about dealing with side effects, click here.)
  • What are the long term side effects of the proposed treatment?
  • How would you describe what I will experience when I receive radiation therapy?  Will it hurt or cause me discomfort during the treatment?
  • What effect will the treatment have on my work? 
    • How long will the effect continue?
    • What can we do to minimize the effect on work?
  • What effect will the treatment have on my daily activities?
  • How will we know if the treatment is working? When will we know?
  • What should I do during treatment? Not do? For example:
    • Exercise?
    • Change my diet to add or avoid certain foods?
    • Take vitamins? Supplements?
    • Avoid using deodorant or antiperspirant during treatment?
    • Engage in complementary therapy such as massage? (For information about complementary therapies, click here.)
  • Will the treatment prevent me from getting other treatments in the future?
  • In what situation(s) should I call the doctor or go to the emergency room? For example, if the skin blisters? 
If you are a member of an HMO or other managed care health insurance plan, ask:
  • Does the insurer provide financial incentives for doctors to use a preferred treatment?
  • Is the doctor prohibited from informing you about treatment options other than the one or ones approved by the managed care company? This is a practice known as "gagging."  Gagging is supposed to be a thing of the past. However, it is still worth confirming that you have been advised of all of your treatment options.
  • Does the plan limit your doctor's choice to order treatments and make referrals if a patient's needs go beyond the plan's protocols?


  • If you have difficulty getting the doctor to answer your questions, see the video, Talking With Your Doctor, and/or read How To Work Most Effectively With Your Doctor.
  • If the doctor doesn't have time to answer all your questions when you are together, ask what is the best way to ask your additional questions. The doctor may set another appointment or suggest you send them by e mail or perhaps speak with another doctor or nurse in his or her practice.
  • For information about dealing with the stress of waiting for a procedure, click here.

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