Cancer patients who receive radiation therapy may worry that their bodies will become “radioactive” after treatment, and that close physical contact with other people could expose them to radiation. However, the radiation doesn't usually go far away from the treatment area, so it is usually safe to be with other people. As a precautionary measure, it is recommended to avoid close contact with children and pregnant women for a period of time. The treatment team will give specific advice in this regard. Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses beams of intense energy, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells.
Some patients worry that undergoing radiation therapy may be harmful to other people because they are radioactive. However, most patients don't need to worry about being radioactive. The radiation oncology team will instruct patients who receive internal radiation on how long and in what situations it is OK for them to be close to other people. Radiation therapy generates molecules called free radicals that kill cancer cells, and this process requires oxygen. In rare circumstances, a new cancer (second primary cancer) may develop that is different from the first one treated with radiation years later.
As the radioactive material inside implants naturally decays over time, it emits radiation that deposits energy to treat nearby cancer cells. After the planning process, the radiation therapy team decides what type of radiation and what dose the patient will receive based on the type and stage of their cancer, their general health, and treatment goals. Most patients who are working when they start radiation can continue to work for much of their treatment. An example is the use of radioactive beads placed inside the prostate to deliver radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Getting a recommendation for radiation therapy as part of cancer treatment involves a learning curve and a lot of questions. Your ability to continue working will depend on your specific treatment, your general health condition, and whether you are also receiving other cancer treatments. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are treatments for cancer, that is, the uncontrolled growth and spread of cells to surrounding tissues.
They kill or reduce cancer cells anywhere in the body, not just where the first (primary) cancerous tumor originates. If you are undergoing cancer treatment, you may be concerned about the effect chemotherapy and radiation may have on your loved ones and the people around you.