Radiotherapy involves the use of radiation to damage or kill cancer cells. It is carried out in a radiotherapy department, which may be part of the hospital you attend, or it may be part of another hospital. Before you go for radiotherapy, a radiation oncologist will plan your treatment to create the maximum damage to the cancer while giving the minimum damage to your site of cancer.
In the radiotherapy centre, the radiographers will use a simulator to help plan your treatment accurately. Between them, your radiographers and radiation oncologist then use the information from the simulator and any X-rays or scans to work out the dose of radiation to give you. They also work out the treatment field, which is the area at which the rays should be directed.
The radiographers are then likely to mark your skin so they know where to direct the machine when you come for treatment. These marks should be left in place until your entire treatment is finished. When all this planning has been done, you can then start your course of treatment.
Each time you go for treatment, you go into the radiotherapy room and the radiographers position you carefully on the table under the radiotherapy machine. It is painless. Then the radiographer leaves you on your own in the room while the machine is turned on for a few minutes. The radiographers work the machine from a room next door while you lie still. You will see the radiation oncologist at least once a week to discuss your treatment and any problems which may arise.
Key points to remember:
There are a few important things to remember while having radiotherapy:
- Don’t wash the radiographer’s marks off your skin
- Don’t wash the treatment field unless your doctor says you can
- Don’t use any ointments, creams, lotions, deodorants, toner, make-up or talcum powder on the treatment field unless the doctor says you can
- Wear comfortable, loose clothing such as cotton to reduce chafing to the treatment field
- Keep the treated area out of the sun altogether, as it will burn easily
- Tell your radiation oncologist about any unusual, painful or worrying problems or side effects