Northern Centre for Cancer Care

Head and neck radiotherapy Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy IMRT

This information has been written to give you general information about intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) as part of your treatment for head and neck cancer. It will answer some of the questions you may have about this radiotherapy and the practicalities of attending for treatment at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne.

We hope you will find this helpful.


What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is the use of high energy X-rays to treat cancer. It works by destroying cancer cells within the treated area, and whilst normal cells can also be damaged during treatment they have the ability to repair themselves whereas cancer cells do not.

Radiotherapy is the use of high energy X-rays to treat cancer. It works by destroying cancer cells within the treated area, and whilst normal cells can also be damaged during treatment they have the ability to repair themselves whereas cancer cells do not.

What is IMRT/how is it given?

IMRT is a specialised way of delivering radiotherapy, it involves using the treatment equipment to shape treatment beams to fit the shape of the tumour more precisely. It normally involves giving treatment from a number of different angles and changing the shape of the area as the treatment is delivered, allowing differing amounts of treatment to be given to different parts of the tumour. This means better control of the dose to normal tissues surrounding the tumour, and higher doses where it is needed most.

IMRT is not available at all treatment centres in the UK, which is why you are being offered this type of treatment at NCCC.

What happens before treatment?

  • On your fist visit to NCCC you will meet with your NCCC Oncologist who will explain the treatment, side effects and gain your consent for treatment. IMRT is carefully planned for each individual to ensure it achieves the best result possible.
  • On the same day you will visit the mould room so that an immobilisation device (mould) can be constructed. This ensures you are in the same position for each treatment session by supporting your head in a stable and comfortable position.
  • You will have two appointments in the mould room, one in the morning and the second in the afternoon. You will be provided with lunch on the day.
  • The same day or the following day, you will have a CT and an MRI scan wearing the mould to allow your treatment to be planned. 
  • If you would prefer, an overnight stay can be arranged between your mould room visit and your scans. The scans allow your doctor to identify the exact size, shape and location of the tumour, permitting accurate planning of your treatment. Planning is a very important part of the pre-treatment process.
  • You will be given your schedule for treatment appointments after the scans are completed.

What happens during treatment?

You will attend for treatment every day Monday to Friday. At each visit, the radiographers will position you on the couch and the positioning device will be worn for each treatment.

  • You will be positioned accurately using a system of lasers and all of the information relating to your treatment is held in the computer that controls the treatment machine.
  • Lights will go on and off and when you are correctly positioned ready for treatment to be given, the radiographers will leave the room and the delivery of your treatment will begin, this is controlled remotely, and the machine emits a buzzing sound whilst it is delivered.
  • The radiographers, whilst outside of the room, will observe you throughout treatment using a CCTV system and can speak to you by intercom if necessary.
  • When treatment is completed the radiographers will return to the room, remove any positioning device, move the treatment couch back to its lowest position and help you from it. Treatment appointments take approximately 45 minutes.

Travel while attending NCCC

There are a number of options available if you choose to receive treatment at NCCC. Options include:

  • Use of your own transport
  • If you are in receipt of certain benefits or on a low income, funding is available to help with your travel costs. The healthcare travel cost scheme is a nationwide scheme. Leaflets explaining whether you qualify for help are available from the Macmillan Information Centre on Level 2 of NCCC. 
  • There is also a scheme for reduced cost parking on site – if you wish to access this please contact the Scheduling Team at NCCC
  • Please read the information included with this document regarding directions of how to get to NCCC which includes a map of the Freeman Hospital site 
  • Use of the ambulance service. If you chose this option, please contact the Scheduling Team at NCCC.

Accommodation (if required) while attending NCCC

You may prefer not to travel from home each day for treatment due to the long journey time. NCCC has access to free accommodation courtesy of a partnership with a number of sheltered housing projects in the local area. A carer or relative is also able to stay with you free of charge. If you wish to take advantage of this please contact the scheduling section at NCCC, who can provide details and arrange this for you. This would allow you to travel from home for treatment on Monday, stay close to the hospital between Monday and Thursday and travel home after treatment on Friday for the weekend.

The ‘Daft as a Brush’ transport charity will be available to transport you from home to the accommodation and also from the accommodation to NCCC daily for your treatment.

Support whilst on treatment

Your treatment will be delivered each day by a team of radiographers who will support you through your course. If you have any queries or concerns, please discuss them with your radiographers. At your first treatment appointment your treatment radiographer will explain the treatment, possible side effects, what you can do to minimise these and arrange your appointment times.

During your course of treatment you will be seen each week in clinic by your consultant or a member of the team. There is medical support available for you outside of the working hours of the radiotherapy service via the Acute Oncology teams at Newcastle and Carlisle.

While you are staying at home, this will be through the Carlisle service. If you are staying at Newcastle, this will be through the Newcastle service. You will be provided with contact details at your first appointment.

Chemotherapy

If you are also receiving chemotherapy, this will be discussed with you by your Oncologist at Carlisle. It will be delivered at NCCC and co-ordinated with your radiotherapy appointments. Your NCCC Oncologist will explain the chemotherapy and side effects and obtain your consent for chemotherapy.

You will visit the chemotherapy day unit at NCCC on the day you attend the Mould Room. Your chemotherapy will be discussed with you and your appointments arranged.

More information

Useful contacts

For further information

If you would like further information about local support groups specific to Head and Neck Cancer in your area please enquire at the Macmillan Information and Support Centre at NCCC. The Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) can offer on-the-spot advice and information about the NHS. You can contact them on freephone 0800 032 02 02 or email northoftynepals@nhct.nhs.uk

If you would like further information about health conditions and treatment options, you may wish to visit the NHS Choices website. On this website there is an information prescription generator which brings together a wealth of approved patient information from the NHS and charity partners which you may find helpful.

Leaflet to download

You can download a PDF version of the information on this page:

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