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Radiotherapy

What is radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells or injure them so they cannot multiply. Radiotherapy can be used to treat the original (primary) and to treat the symptoms of advanced cancer. While radiation will affect all cells, normal cells are better able than cancer cells to resist or recover from its effects.

- Radiotherapy will not leave you radioactive.
- The treatments do not hurt.
- The radiation is not hot.
- You will not see or feel the rays, just as you do not see or feel anything when you have an ordinary x-ray.

Why radiotherapy is used?
- To cure cancer
- To control cancer
- To relieve symptoms
- To help other treatments

How long is a course of treatment?
Different people need different numbers of radiotherapy treatments. Usually people need radiotherapy five days a week for several weeks.

Using many small doses of daily radiation rather than a few large doses helps protect normal body tissues in the treatment area. Weekend rest breaks allow normal cells to recover. Each dose of radiation causes a little more damage to cancer cells, so it is important to attend all your treatments to ensure you receive enough radiation to eventually kill the cancer cells. You may not notice any benefit until some time after the treatment finishes.

Preparing for treatment

Planning Procedures
1. Examination: Your radiation oncologist will examine you and may ask for further x-rays and other tests to find out more about your tumour will then decide which part of the body to treat and how much radiation to use.
2. Simulator: A special x-ray machine called a simulator is often used to precisely pinpoint the area of the body to be treated.
3. Moulds and casts: Depending on the type of treatment you will be receiving, special support devices may be made to help you stay still during treatment and to make sure the treatment is directed at the same place each time.
4. Skin marking: The doctor or radiation therapist may mark your skin with special ink or marker pens to make sure the radiation is directed at the same place on your body each time.

It is important you do not wash off the ink until your full course of treatment is finished.
If it fades, your radiation therapist will darken it. The ink will gradually wear off after your treatment is finished.

What happens during treatment?

You will probably be asked to change into a hospital gown and you will be taken into a special treatment room. You might be in there for 15 or 30 minutes, although you will only get radiation for about one to five minutes of that time, depending on the dose the doctor has prescribed. The radiation therapist will settle you on the treatment table or in a chair. If you have had a special support device made, it will be used during your treatment.

The therapist will spend a little time getting the machines in exactly the right place and checking all the required steps. The machines make noises like a vacuum cleaner as they move around to aim at the cancer from different angles. The machines are always under the radiation therapist's control, and you will not hear or see the rays.

Once everything is in place, the radiation therapist will go to a nearby room to turn on the machine. You will be alone in the room, but you can still talk with the radiation therapist through an intercom, and he or she will watch you all the time on a television screen or through a window.

You may breathe normally during treatment but it is important for you to stay very still while the machine is working. Some people may need treatment from several different angles, so the radiation therapist will move you or the machine before repeating the procedure. The radiation therapist will tell you when it is time to move.

You should not feel any discomfort. If you are concerned or anxious at any stage, or if you feel unwell, always request the radiation therapist to explain or help. While you are having your course of treatments, your doctor will watch over your progress, checking the cancer's response to treatment and your overall well-being. This may involve physical examinations, blood tests, scans and x-rays.

Does it hurt?
No, it does not hurt. You will not see or hear the radiation and you should not feel any discomfort during the treatment.

Will I be radioactive?
No. External radiotherapy does not make you radioactive. It is safe to be with other people in the period when you are having treatment and afterwards.

Managing side effects
Radiotherapy is an effective treatment for many cancers, but it can cause unwanted side effects. Side effects usually start around the second or third week of treatment and are at their worst two-thirds of the way through treatment. Fortunately, most side effects will go away in time and there are ways to reduce the discomfort they may cause.

Side effects vary:
- from person to person - some people will have no side effects, others will experience a few
- from the areas of the body being treated
- from one treatment period to the next


The type and severity of your side effects have nothing to do with the success of your treatment.

Helping yourself during radiotherapy
- Talk to your radiation oncologist about possible side effects. Before your treatment begins ask your doctor about the expected short term and long-term side effects.
- Tell your doctor or nurse of any side effects. If you have a particularly severe side effect, the doctor may prescribe a break in your treatments or change your treatment.
- Ask your doctor if you can take any medicines, creams, home remedies or alternative or complementary therapies. Some of these remedies can affect how radiotherapy works in your body.

Side Effects and Tips

1. Feeling tired and lacking energy
Tips:

- Save your energy. Help your body by doing less and doing restful things in your leisure time.
- Try to get more sleep at night and take naps during the day if you can.
- Let other people help you. Family members, neighbours and friends may be glad to have a chance to help you with tasks like shopping, child-care, housework and driving.
- Take a few weeks off work during or after your radiotherapy, or work fewer hours. May be you can do some of your work at home. Some people feel well enough to continue to work full time if their treatment appointments can be organised to suit their work hours.

2. Skin problems
Tips:

- Wear soft clothing. Some of the