Radiation therapy uses radiation or radioactive substances to damage and kill cancer cells. To learn more about how radiation therapy works, how it is given and possible side-effects visit radiation therapy on the Cancer Care South East website.
You can find helpful information about how to prepare for your appointments and what to bring by visiting preparing for appointments.
You need a referral from your oncologist for radiation therapy.
Radiation treatment planning
Before your radiation treatment begins, you will have a radiation treatment planning appointment.
You will get a phone call with the date and time of this appointment. At your radiation treatment planning appointment:
- A radiation therapist will talk with you about the planning procedure and will take you to a special type of machine called a CT simulator.
- A scan will be taken of the area(s) of your body to be treated.
- Your radiation therapist will take measurements for the detailed calculations needed for your treatment plan. Photos may need to be taken of your position and the treatment area(s).
- Marks will be drawn on your skin with an ink marker. These marks will wash off, but permanent, tiny tattoo marks will be made in the same place. The tattoo marks are the size of a freckle. These tattoos help the therapists in your daily treatment setup.
- If you need radiation therapy to the head or neck area, a special mask will be made. This mask will help you stay still during treatment and will be used for treatment setup. This mask will be worn every day for treatment.
- The radiation treatment planning appointment usually takes between 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete.
Once the images and measurements are complete, the radiation therapy team will design your treatment plan. Designing your treatment plan requires detail and can take several days to complete. You will be called with your treatment start date and time. Treatment usually starts about two weeks after your planning session.
On your first day of treatment a radiation therapist will talk to you about what to expect. They will give you advice and written information on how to manage treatment side effects. Radiation therapists are always available to answer any questions or concerns about your treatment or side effects.
If you are receiving external radiation therapy, you will be positioned under a machine. You will need to stay very still when the radiation beam is on. While you receive your treatment, the radiation therapists will leave the room. They will constantly monitor you using an intercom and TV system. The radiation can be easily stopped at any time and will automatically switch off once your treatment has been given.
The radiation itself does not cause pain. You are unlikely to feel anything during treatment.
Radiation Review Clinic
While you are on radiation therapy, your radiation oncologist or another cancer care provider will meet with you in the Radiation Review Clinic at least once a week. The purpose of these appointments is to check how you are doing.