What Should I Expect During Radiation Therapy for Lung Cancer?

Before you begin radiation therapy for lung cancer, your physician will meet with you to explain what you can expect throughout the treatment process. During a pre-treatment session called a simulation, your treatment team will fully plan your therapy. A simulation session is essentially a “walk through” during which no treatment is actually administered, but all of the details are discussed and finalized.

Radiation therapy for lung cancer can be delivered in several ways, and your treatment team will recommend the best approach for you. With external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), a radioactive beam is produced by a machine located outside the body and directed at the tumor. Internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy), involves radioactive pellets being implanted inside the body and later removed or allowed to disintegrate once the pellets have completed their delivery of radiation.

Radiation simulation for EBRT

If you will be receiving EBRT, planning your radiation therapy for lung cancer will involve several steps:

  • Positioning – Your treatment team will determine whether you will lie on your back, stomach or side during each session. The goal is to find a position that not only will optimize the effectiveness of your treatment, but also will be comfortable enough for you to hold for the required amount of time (approximately 15 to 45 minutes). Supports may be used to help you maintain this position throughout each session.
  • Immobilizing – Because it will be essential for you to remain still during your treatment, you may be asked to use a special immobilization device, such as a foam box that is customized to fit your form.
  • Imaging – After your body is correctly positioned, your treatment team will take a series of computed tomography (CT) scans of your chest. The resulting images will help your radiation oncologist map out the precise area on which to focus the delivery of your treatment.
  • Marking – To ensure that your body is correctly positioned during each treatment session, your treatment team will use a combination of laser lights and marks on your body, such as tiny, freckle-like tattoos that cannot be accidently washed off or rubbed away.

Once your radiation simulation is complete, your radiation therapy for lung cancer can officially begin. During each treatment session, you’ll lie on a table in the appropriate position using the immobilization device that was created for you during your planning session. The machine will be operated by a trained technician called a radiation therapist, who you’ll be able to communicate with throughout the procedure. Typically, the treatment is painless, although you may hear whirring, buzzing or clicking sounds coming from the machine.

If you have general questions about radiation therapy for lung cancer, you are welcome to consult with a radiation oncologist in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. You can request an appointment with or without a referral by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing a new patient registration form online.