NCPD Article

Radiation Therapy: Understanding the Patient Experience

Jennifer Miller

Carol Scherbak

radiation therapy, side effects, oncology, nursing, brachytherapy
CJON 2021, 25(6), 717-720. DOI: 10.1188/21.CJON.717-720

Radiation therapy is used as definitive or adjuvant treatment for more than half of all people receiving cancer treatment. The process for the patient spans several months and is demanding physically, mentally, and logistically. Understanding the patient experience from start to finish is important for all oncology nurses, because adherence to the treatment regimen is integral and side effects can occur even after radiation treatment has completed.


  • Radiation therapy is used alone or with chemotherapy and/or surgery. Radiation kills cancer cells by altering the cancer cell’s DNA to stop its ability to divide.
  • The radiation therapy process can span several months and consists of consultation, a simulation appointment, and several weeks of treatment with weekly provider visits.
  • There are common side effects that affect nearly all patients undergoing radiation therapy, as well as site-specific side effects. Side effects can occur early during active treatment or months after treatment has completed.
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