Receiving radiotherapy

If you have any questions about your treatment, ask your doctor or radiographer.

How is the radiotherapy machine chosen?

There are several different machines used for giving radiotherapy and they each work in slightly different ways. The machine used will depend on many things, such as which part of your body is to be treated and why treatment is being given.

How many treatments will I have?

You may have a single treatment or a course of treatments, called fractions, over several weeks. This depends on why radiotherapy is recommended for you. Lower doses are given for palliative treatment than for curative treatment and usually over a shorter period of time.

When do I attend for treatment?

Radiotherapy is normally given, Monday to Friday as an outpatient. The number of treatments you will need depends on many facts about you and your particular type of cancer. This can vary from a single treatment to a number of weeks of treatment. A course of radiotherapy may last for six or seven weeks. Everyone is different, and your doctor will decide how many treatments are best for you.

Most people receive radiotherapy as outpatients, travelling to the department each day. You might like to ask a friend or relative to come with you.

The staff will explain where you need to go and will try to arrange an appointment time that suits you. You will usually be able to book all your appointments at the same time to allow you to plan ahead. If you are staying in hospital, the radiographers will arrange your treatment times with the ward staff.

It is important that you don’t miss any appointments, particularly if you are having treatment to your head and neck area. If you can’t attend for any reason, please let the radiographers know in advance if possible.

What happens when I come for treatment?

Each time you visit for treatment a radiographer will ask you three questions to make sure you are the person they are expecting to treat. These are: your name, address and date of birth (even though they may know you).

The radiographers, who carry out your treatment, will explain things to you. If there is anything you don’t understand or if you have any questions, please ask them.

You may be asked to change into a gown before treatment, and then the radiographers will position you on the couch. Using the tattoos or marks which were put on your skin during treatment planning, they will line up the radiotherapy machine. It won’t usually touch you.

The preparation may take some time, often longer than the treatment itself. It will probably take longer on the first day. When the radiographers are satisfied that you and the treatment machine are both in the correct position, they will leave the room and switch on the radiation beam. You won’t feel anything during the treatment.

The radiographers will watch you using closed-circuit television or through a window. You can speak to them and they can speak to you via an intercom. You should keep very still during the few minutes it takes to give your treatment but you can breathe and swallow normally. The machine may move around you during treatment, or the radiographers may come in to change your position or that of the machine. They will explain each step to you.

The radiographers will give you special instructions, for example about care of your treatment area. Please try to follow these carefully.