Jargon buster

fractions (RT)

The radiotherapy dose is divided into a number of smaller doses (known as fractions) to reduce the risk of side effects.

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Contact: (0191) 213 8355 - Radiotherapy reception

Radiotherapy overviewShow [+]Hide [-]

We have one of the shortest waiting times in the UK for radiotherapy. With an average of 19 days for curative treatments and 6 days for symptom control, we are well within the targets set by the government.

We are the North of England’s regional centre for paediatric radiotherapy and one of a small number of centres in the country that offers specialist treatment for lung cancer called CHART (Continuous, Hyper-fractionated, Accelerated Radiotherapy for Treatment).  CHART is a form of treatment which gives you more concentrated sessions of radiotherapy, allowing you to be treated more quickly.  We are also a leading centre for the treatment of thyroid, paediatric and rare skin cancers.

Useful Contacts and Phone Numbers

Radiotherapy scheduling office          (0191) 213 8488

Radiotherapy reception                    (0191) 213 8355

Information & Support Centre         (0191) 213 8611 -  (Open Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm)

Before radiotherapyShow [+]Hide [-]

It is important that your programme of radiotherapy is planned specifically for you. This means that you may have one or more appointments at NCCT before your radiotherapy starts, depending on what you are being treated for.

To help you get an idea of what to expect, we have outlined below one of the common journeys through radiotherapy treatment.

1.    CT scan

The first appointment may be for a planning CT scan. This allows the doctor to see the affected area to decide where the radiotherapy needs to be directed.

When you come in for a CT scan, the reception staff will ask you to sit in the pink area of the waiting room. During the scan you lie on a couch. The couch passes through a large hollow ring, which creates the detailed images for the doctor, so they can design your treatment plan.

The radiographers will put marks on your skin to ensure you are placed in the right position for your treatment. Some of these marks may be semi- permanent, but they are tiny and can barely be seen. However, if you would like them removed after your treatment is complete this can be done by laser.

Some patients will have their skin marked using a special ink pen. Please don’t wash these marks off until the radiographer has told you it is OK to do so. You may need to leave them on until your radiotherapy is finished.

2.    Verification session

A second appointment called a verification session may be required. This is a trial run of your treatment to make sure everything worked out on paper can be given to you and all the measurements are correct. You will not actually receive radiotherapy during this session. Occasionally it may be necessary to have a second CT scan during this verification session.

Not all patients require a verification session.

3.   Before your radiotherapy session

When you come in for your radiotherapy session the reception staff will ask you to sit in the cream coloured seats in the waiting room. You will then be taken to a private changing cubicle, so you can undress and put on the gown given to you. Your radiographer will advise you which clothes to take off, and will make sure that your privacy is respected at all times.

For your convenience and safety, we would ask you to remember the following four things when you come in:

  • Wear clothes that are easy to get in and out of
  • Leave valuables at home
  • Switch your mobile off.
  • If you wear a pacemaker, please tell the doctor or radiographer.

As part of the preparation for your treatment, you may need to go to the “mould room”, where a piece of equipment will be made for you to wear during radiotherapy to keep you in the right position. A mask-like device may be made especially for you to help improve the accuracy of your treatment. The specialist technicians in the “mould room” will explain the procedure and make whatever piece of equipment is needed for your treatment plan.

Not all patients need to visit the mould room.

Before you have radiotherapy, your oncologist will have explained the benefits, risks and possible side effects of your treatment, and we will ask you to sign a consent form to say that you agree to go ahead with the treatment. We will also give you a leaflet relating to your specific treatment to help you further. 

Please ask any questions if you are unsure about anything at all.

During radiotherapyShow [+]Hide [-]

Once you are ready, you will be taken to the treatment room. The radiographers will help you get in the correct position on the couch for your treatment, using the marks that were made on your skin as a guide.

It is vitally important that you keep still during the treatment and that you also breathe normally. If you feel uncomfortable and think that you may not be able to maintain the position, please tell someone immediately. Once you are in the correct position, the radiographers leave the room and switch on the machine.

The treatment is very quick, usually only taking a few minutes. Occassionally very complex treatments may take up to 15 minutes.   During this time you will be on your own in the room. The radiographers will be nearby, just outside the room, watching you on TV monitors. They can also hear you and talk to you on an intercom. If you need any help, you will be able to attract their attention very easily. If you need them to stop the treatment for any reason, they can do so immediately.

The radiotherapy machine may rotate around your body to give the treatment from different directions.

If you would like, you can choose to have music playing to help you relax.

When your treatment is over, the radiographers will come back into the room. You can then get dressed again and go home. You will not be radioactive and can’t harm your family or friends.

While you are coming in for radiotherapy, you will see your doctor, specialist nurse or radiographer every week. They will keep an eye on your progress and discuss any questions or concerns you may have. If you have problems between these review appointments, please let one of your radiographers know.  You will be given a contact number.

It is important to look after yourself during your treatment, in particular:

  • Eat a healthy diet and try to eat enough food, even if you don’t feel hungry. It may be better to eat smaller amounts and often. If you are having problems, your radiographer, specialist nurse or a dietician will be able to give you advice.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. It is important that you do not become dehydrated. It may advisable to avoid alcohol at this time. Check with your doctor or radiographer.
  • Don’t smoke, or at the very least try to cut down. Smoking can make the side effects of radiotherapy much worse.  It may also make the treatment less likely to succeed. Please ask if you need help to stop smoking.
  • Your treatment can make you tired so you may need extra rest. Gentle exercise may also help overcome a sense of tiredness.
  • It is important that you do not miss your appointments. If you cannot make an appointment, for whatever reason, please discuss this with your radiographer or oncologist.
  • Women should not become pregnant before or during radiotherapy, as radiation can harm the foetus, particularly in the first three months of pregnancy. Please use reliable contraception during this time. This is important before and during chemotherapy as well. Please talk to your oncologist if you think you may be pregnant, or have any concerns about your fertility.
  • Tell the oncologists and radiographers how you feel when you come for treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice if you need it.

Emotional effects

Being diagnosed and treated for cancer can lead to a wide range of emotions, including sadness, anxiety and anger. These emotions can occur at any time and are normal. You may find it helpful to talk about your feelings with a family member, friend or professional. Please feel free to discuss your feelings with any member of staff too, including your oncologist, nurse or radiographer.

If you would benefit from more time to discuss your emotions or how you are coping, you may like to see one of our specialist nurses.

Some people undergoing treatment for cancer find that their emotional distress continues for several weeks and affects most areas of their life. This may mean that they become clinically depressed or anxious. It is important to tell someone if this is happening, as there are psychological and medical treatments that can help.

The radiographers, nurse or oncologist can refer you to one of our clinical psychologists who will arrange to see you and assess your emotional difficulties more fully. Then you and your psychologist can discuss the options available to you.

After radiotherapyShow [+]Hide [-]

After your treatment you will have follow up appointments so that your oncologist can check how you are getting on. Your radiographer, oncologist or specialist nurse will tell you about the arrangements for these.

In the meantime you may be concerned about side effects. Everyone is different,. While some people experience more side effects than others, a few people have none at all. Your side effects will also depend on the part of your body being treated and how much radiotherapy you are having. Most side effects last only for a short time and gradually disappear after treatment. Some treatments have a risk of causing long-term, and occasionally permanent, effects. Your oncologist will have explained the possible side effects before getting your written consent to start treatment.

Common side effects include:

Fatigue: You may find that you become more tired than usual, particularly towards the end of your treatment. Take things easy until you start to feel well again.

Skin reaction: During radiotherapy your skin may become red and itchy, similar to sunburn. Please speak to a doctor or nurse when you come for treatment. They will  advise you how best to treat your skin.

Hair loss: you may lose hair in the area treated or opposite the area treated. This will usually grow back again after a couple of months.

Bowel problems: Radiotherapy sometimes causes diarrhoea if your abdomen is treated . Your doctor will give you medication for these problems.

Mouth and eating problems: If you have radiotherapy to your head or neck area, your mouth may become sore, or dry and you may have difficult in swallowing. Food may taste different, you may have a reduced appetite or need a soft diet.  Drink plenty of water, avoid spicy or very hot or cold foods and tell your nurse, radiographer or doctor. They can arrange for you to see someone to give you specialist advice regarding your diet and prescribe medication to help with these side effects. Remember that these problems will pass.

Please feel free to discuss any concerns about side effects with us.

Meet the teamShow [+]Hide [-]

Radiotherapy involves a team approach and you will meet many specialists and care staff during you treatment. These will include:

  • Reception staff who welcome patients and carers to NCCT and provide a friendly and helpful support service.
  • Oncologists who specialise in the treatment of cancer using radiotherapy, chemotherapy or hormone therapy. The oncologist will decide the treatments to help, discuss these with you and agree what course of treatment to prescribe. They will review your treatment and progress regularly.
  • Therapy radiographers who plan and deliver radiotherapy. They also give information, advice and support to help with your physical and emotional needs. A team of superintendent radiographers is available providing specialist care and advice as part of your cancer team.
  • Scheduling staff who arrange all pre-treatment appointments and any transport from your home to NCCT and back again.
  • Some patients need to wear a mask or shield to improve the accuracy of the radiotherapy treatment. These are made specially for you by our “mould room” technicians.
  • Dose planners who work with the radiotherapy physics staff to carefully plan how your radiotherapy will be given. Our aim is to provide the best standard of care possible.
  • Nurses and Clinical Nurse Specialists who can  provide the expert advice and support you may need. Please ask them any questions you have at any time about any aspect of your care or treatment during your time with us.
  • Macmillan nurses are specially trained to help you during all stages of your care and treatment journey, offering expert information, advice and support for you and your family. If you haven’t been introduced to one of our Macmillan nurses please ask your radiographer or oncologist. You may see a Macmillan nurse either in the hospital or in the community.

These are just some of the people you might meet during your time at NCCT.  And there are many others too!  You may want to talk to a dietician, a speech and language therapist, clinical psychologist or physiotherapist. Or perhaps a social worker who can help with practical matters such as the financial benefits you might be able to claim. Just ask any member of our staff.

Every member of our team is committed to providing the highest quality of care for you, your family and carers.  We are continually looking at ways to improve what we do and always welcome any comments, ideas or suggestions.

Radiotherapy treatment at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care

You can watch a video about the patient experience of radiotherapy at the NCCC

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