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Is It Safe to Be Around Someone Receiving Radiation Therapy?

Patient receiving radiation therapy to treat cancer

Radiation therapy is an effective form of treatment and is one of the most common methods used to address a wide range of cancers and other illnesses. Although harmless for the patient, when someone is receiving radiation therapy, the people who are around them may wonder if the radiation can affect them and whether they can safely come into contact with the patient. Richmond University Medical Center is an award-winning healthcare facility on Staten Island, New York, that offers cancer screening and treatment. Here, we explore the safety of radiation therapy for loved ones and caregivers who are around patients and the precautions they should take to minimize their risk while still supporting those who are undergoing treatment.

What Is Radiation Therapy and How Does It Work?

Also referred to as radiotherapy, radiation therapy uses targeted energy, such as X-rays and radioactive substances, to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may also be used to alleviate certain symptoms depending on the type of cancer being treated. This method of treatment works by damaging, killing, or disrupting the DNA in cancer cells and hindering its ability to grow and divide.

Radiation therapy does not kill cancer cells right away. This process can take several days or weeks depending on the patient and the type of cancer that’s being treated. Another factor is the type of radiation therapy used. The various forms of radiation therapy include:

  • External beam radiation therapy
  • Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy)
  • Systemic radiation therapy

Caring For Someone Who Has Undergone Radiation Therapy

Caregivers and loved ones of patients who are receiving radiation therapy need to be aware of any concerns and potential dangers. Patients receiving external beam radiation therapy have no radiation in their bodies and therefore are safe to be around immediately following treatment. However, those who receive internal and systemic radiation can give off radiation for a short time after treatment, which can increase the risk for those who come into close contact with the patient. Caregivers and loved ones should avoid touching the patient and limit the time they spend with them during these periods.

While caregivers and family members must do their part, patients undergoing radiation treatment can also take precautions to help reduce the risk of exposure for their loved ones. Consider the following tips:

  • Flush the toilet twice after each use and wash hands thoroughly
  • Use separate utensils and towels, being sure to wash them after each use
  • Use the toilet sitting down to limit the splash of bodily fluid
  • Refrain from kissing loved ones
  • Try to keep 6 feet of distance between others
  • Sleep in a separate bed in a separate room
  • Avoid touching pets
  • Drink extra fluids to flush the radioactive material out of the body
  • Avoid infants, children, and pregnant women
  • Wash loads of laundry separate from the rest of the household, including sheets
  • Plan to remain home and avoid work, schools, and other places with lots of people

Learn More About Radiation Therapy at Richmond University Medical Center

When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, families have many questions. They can find answers to these questions, such as inquiries about the safety of radiation treatment, from the experts at Richmond University Medical Center in Staten Island, New York. Our board-certified oncology team consists of medical professionals with years of expertise and knowledge, which allows them to provide accurate information along with advanced cancer care. Contact us today for more information about radiation therapy and other facts about caregiver and family support.