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What it’s like to get radiation for a solid tumor


Your child's treatment team has decided the next step of treatment should be radiation therapy. Knowing what to expect will help reassure your family and your child. You can also ask your team members or St. Jude staff questions at any time.

Getting started

When your child is getting radiation treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, your day will start like any other—at Patient Registration. Tell the staff that you are here for radiation. After your first few visits, getting radiation will likely feel more routine.

Practice and preparation for your child and your family

To prepare for the first radiation treatment, your child will go through a process called simulation.

For this, your child will have a CT scan and sometimes an MRI as well. The scanners focus on the precise area that needs treatment.

Your child may also get tiny “tattoos” with a permanent marker or very small needle. Your child may also need to have special devices made to help put him or her in the exact same position for each treatment. See Radiation Therapy for Solid Tumor: What to Expect for more details about this process.

Reducing stress: Child Life and your family

The first time doing anything new can be stressful. Your child may have questions or false ideas about what will happen during simulation. That’s why your family will meet with a Child Life Specialist to help prepare you for simulation. Your Child Life expert may also have special training in Radiation Oncology (RO).

The RO Child Life Specialist is trained to give your children age-appropriate information. That can help you all feel more at ease. Plus, the Child Life Specialist will show your child the imaging equipment. Your child will walk through each step that will happen during radiation treatment. At the same time, your child will learn what his or her job will be during the process.

The RO nurse may also show your family a video that explains radiation simulation and treatment. If your child needs more help to cope, the Child Life Specialist will help develop a plan for that.

If you do not see an appointment with the Radiation Oncology (RO) Child Life Specialist on your child’s schedule, please call the Radiation Oncology Clinic at 901-595-3655. Ask one of the RO nurses to enter this visit for your child.

Simulation time

If your child is younger than age 6, the staff may use anesthesia, which is medicine that makes your child sleepy so he or she will stay still during the simulation and treatments. Your RO nurse will give you NPO (nothing by mouth) guidelines.

The nurse will also tell you what time to bring your child to the Radiation Oncology sedation room, which is also called the induction room. One parent or caregiver may go into the induction room and stay until your child goes to sleep. Your child can bring a small toy for comfort.

If your child needs a contrast for either a CT or MRI simulation, the nurse will give you NPO (nothing by mouth) guidelines. 

One parent is welcome to go with your child into the room for the simulation. But the parent won’t stay the whole time so that the staff can focus on your child and the simulation. Parents may stay in the waiting area until the simulation is done. 

Your other children must remain in the waiting area during your child’s simulation and treatments. Please plan ahead to make sure you have someone in the waiting area to watch your kids during any times you may be away.

Your child's first radiation treatment

Each parent will have the chance to observe one treatment by him- or herself on separate days. Limiting parents to one session each helps the staff stay focused on your child and the treatment.

While your child is having radiation therapy, you can stay in the waiting room.

The typical radiation routine

Once your child has been through simulation and you’ve seen what the treatment is like, radiation may feel more routine. On most days, after you check in at Patient Registration, you can go straight to the Radiation Oncology waiting area and sign in with the patient representative at the desk.

At least once a week, you’ll have an Assessment/Triage appointment. While you’re there, your child may have to give a blood or urine sample.

During your child’s check-up, the radiation oncologist will do a weekly exam of your child. The primary clinic doctor might also examine your child each week.

On other days, your child’s doctor may order tests such as these:

  • CT scans or MRIs
  • Dental exams
  • Eye exams
  • Hearing tests
  • X-rays

A parent or other adult always needs to be with your child when he or she comes to Radiation Oncology for tests and treatments.

Refer a Solid Tumor Patient