How is radiotherapy given?
Radiotherapy is painless and usually takes 10-15 minutes to deliver. There are private changing rooms within the treatment areas, as some items of clothing will need to be removed. The radiographers will advise you about this and will maintain your privacy at all times. They will take you to the treatment room and help you get into the correct position. You will then be left alone on the treatment couch. You will only be left alone for a few minutes while the treatment takes place and the radiographers will watch you on the TV monitors outside the room. You can attract their attention very easily if you require any assistance.
The radiotherapy machine will rotate around your body to give the treatment from different directions. If you wish, you can have music playing to help you relax during your treatment.
Whilst you are on treatment you will be seen every week in the treatment review clinic by your oncologist or specialist nurse. This is to see how you are feeling during the radiotherapy and to discuss any questions or concerns you may have. If you experience any problems in-between these review appointments, please inform one of your treatment radiographers.
What are the possible side effects?
There are a number of side effects that may occur during your radiotherapy. Not everyone experiences them but if you do your specialist team will be able to advise you on how to treat them correctly. Listed below are some of the possible side effects most commonly experienced. The side effects may resolve at varying times following the radiotherapy. If you are experiencing any other problems which are not listed please advise your specialist team who will be happy to discuss them with you.
You may feel tired during your treatment and find that you need to go to bed earlier than usual or have to take a short nap in the afternoon. This tiredness will resolve but it can take up to a couple of months. It may help to remain as active as you can during your radiotherapy but be aware of your limitations.
Nausea and indigestion
Because the radiotherapy is being given to your abdomen you could find that you may feel sick. Your doctor will provide you with a prescription for anti-sickness tablets. You should take this medication prior to each radiotherapy treatment to help to control any nausea you may experience. Please check your appointment schedule for the date when you will be starting the radiotherapy so you know when to start taking the medication. You should be able to stop taking the anti-sickness medication a couple of days after your treatment is complete. Occasionally patients experience indigestion during and following the radiotherapy. Please let your specialist team or your GP know if this happens as you may require medication for this.
Altered bowel habits
Changes in your bowel motions can also occur during radiotherapy. If diarrhoea or constipation occurs this is often mild and dietary advice can be provided. If either problem persists or worsens your specialist team will prescribe appropriate medication.
Your bowel habits may continue to be disrupted for a couple of weeks following radiotherapy. This usually resolves so please let your oncologist or specialist nurse know if it does not.
Some people may develop a slight skin reaction (reddening) and hair loss within the area treated with radiotherapy. The following is advised:
- Wash treated skin gently everyday and pat dry.
- Do not use creams, moisturisers or talcum powders on the area being treated.
- Keep the treated skin away from direct sunlight or sunlamps. If a skin reaction occurs please inform your specialist team and they will be able to help you treat this. Any hair loss will gradually grow back once treatment is complete.
Little is known about the effects on fertility of radiotherapy delivered to this part of the body. At NCCT we suggest that you consider sperm banking if you have not completed your family. This is a precautionary measure. It is advised in case there was to be any damage to sperm production during your treatment. Your consultant and nurse specialist can talk to you in more depth about this subject so please ask. If you are trying for a pregnancy with a partner we suggest you wait at least one year after the radiotherapy and discuss this with your oncologist or nurse specialist.