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Starting radiation therapy

Understanding your radiation treatment can help you prepare for your first visit

Your first visit

Radiation therapy uses radiation to safely treat and manage cancer by destroying cancer cells, reducing the growth and spread of cancer or relieving cancer symptoms. Icon develops personalised treatment plans for your specific needs and treatment may require a number of appointments. After discussing your diagnosis, your doctor will then talk about your radiation treatment with you, including management of your skin, in addition to possible side effects that can be easily managed. We encourage bringing a family member, friend or carer to be part of this discussion. Your care team will then discuss your treatment and you will receive an explanation of the process and what to expect, including time frames.

Treatment is usually provided over an extended period of time, usually from 1-7 weeks, allowing the radiation to target cancer cells and provide healthy cells with enough time to recover. Your course of radiation therapy is unique to you and your cancer, depending on the location and stage of your disease, type of cancer, your age and general health. A treatment session may only last 5 to 20 minutes, however you may need to attend other appointments, such as seeing your radiation oncologist.

What do I need to bring with me?

Proof of identification for registration purposes
A list of your current medications, this includes the names, doses and frequency (ask your pharmacist to provide you with an up-to-date list or alternatively, you may bring in original packaging and scripts)
Your full medical record - including x-rays CT, MRI, bone and other radiological scans/reports
Pathology reports for blood and histopathology tests

Radiation therapy planning

Radiation therapy planning is the first step in creating your personalised treatment plan. During this appointment, our team review your personal medical history to determine the most appropriate treatment method. Please allow one to two hours for this appointment.

The first component of your appointment takes approximately 40 minutes. You will meet your radiation technologist and they may ask you to change into a gown before being taken to the simulation room. You will discuss the simulation session with your radiation therapist and have the opportunity to answer any of your questions. The position for your radiation therapy treatment will also be identified.

The treatment position is often determined using a CT scanner to identify the cancer and surrounding structure, enabling our team to localise the areas you are having treated. The position needs to be accurately reproduced throughout your treatment and you may require very small marks on the targeted area of your body to assist with this process. The requirement for any marks will be explained in full during your planning session.

Your radiation oncologist and treatment team will discuss any side effects you may experience before your treatment begins and suggest appropriate clothing to wear during treatment. They will also advise any specific requirements needed for your treatment, for example, whether you must have a full or empty bladder.

World-class remote planning

In China, there is currently a shortage of highly skilled medical professionals trained in the process of developing quality radiation therapy treatment plans. At Icon every radiation therapy treatment plan is developed by Australian-based specialised dosimetrists who are highly regarded and experienced in the intricacies of radiation therapy planning. Through the use of advanced software systems, our dosimetrists create accurate and individualised plans to enable us to deliver the best possible care to every patient. Our dosimetrists are experienced in planning for all types of cancers from every stage and complexity, and can precisely develop treatment plans that will pinpoint radiation to the tumour and minimise dose to surrounding areas.

The planning team are able to remotely develop these high-quality plans and communicate with your doctor to ensure consistent quality is met and review protocols are maintained. Your treatment plan is then loaded to the radiation therapy machine to allow the machine to deliver this personalised treatment at each appointment.

What to expect during your treatment

Radiation technologists are responsible for delivering your treatment. To receive radiation therapy, you will lie in the same exact position as your simulation appointment and our radiation therapists will ensure your exact position is replicated each day. Treatment set-up is usually 5-10 minutes and often longer than your treatment time.

Once you are positioned, you are to remain still and relaxed as possible. Your radiation therapists will advise when they are exiting the room and there are microphones available to communicate with them throughout treatment.

To ensure you are correctly positioned, an x-ray or CT scan may be taken before your treatment commences. The machine delivering the radiation therapy is operated from the control area outside the room and your therapist will remain outside the room until treatment is completed. Although you will hear the machine in operation, you do not feel or see the radiation during your treatment.

To ensure the treatment is progressing and allowing for any amendments, regular reviews will occur throughout your treatment sessions. Our care team will regularly check in with you at appointments to chat about how you are feeling and provide support or additional information.

Frequently asked questions

Does radiation therapy make you radioactive?

Radiation does not make you radioactive. It’s completely safe for you to be around other people, including children and pregnant woman.

Can I miss a radiation therapy treatment appointment?

It is important to not miss any appointments due to the careful calculations of your personalised radiation therapy treatment plan. If you are unable to avoid missing an appointment, please discuss this as soon as possible with your radiation therapist.

Will I lose my hair?

Radiation therapy is only targeted to the area of your body with cancer. Unless this is an area where hair grows, such as your scalp or face, you will not have any hair loss. If you are having treatment for breast cancer, your underarm hair may fall out if it is near the radiated area, however it will grow back in time.

Can I drive after treatment?

Yes, it is safe for you to drive after you receive radiation therapy treatment. However, if you feel unfit or unwell to drive, it’s vital that you tell your care team immediately.

Will radiation therapy affect my fertility?

This depends on the area that is receiving treatment. If you are a woman having radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis, the amount of radiation absorbed by the ovaries will determine the potential impact on your fertility. Radiation to the pituitary gland may also affect your fertility, as this gland normally signals the ovaries to ovulate.

Radiation to both testes in men is rare. However, if this is part of your treatment plan your fertility will be affected. If the radiation fields include the pelvis, for example in the treatment of rectal, prostate or soft tissue sarcoma at the buttock or upper leg areas, there may be scattered radiation doses to the testes that can affect your fertility and this can be temporary or permanent depending on the radiation doses received.

Please speak with your radiation oncologist if you or your partner wish to become pregnant or you have fertility concerns.

Does radiation affect pregnancy?

You must not be pregnant or become pregnant at any point during your radiation therapy, as radiation can harm the foetus by causing congenital abnormalities and increases miscarriage risk.

If you think you might be pregnant at any time, it is extremely important to discuss this with a member of your care team. Adequate protection, for example in the use of condom during sexual intercourse or using birth control pill is needed to ensure that you do not become pregnant during the course of radiation. If you want to become pregnant after your treatment please talk to your radiation oncologist about this before starting radiation therapy.

Can I father children during radiation therapy?

If you are having radiation therapy to your pelvic region, you must not father children during treatment. Radiation therapy may damage your sperm, which can lead to birth abnormalities. If you wish to father children after your treatment please talk to your radiation oncologist about this before starting radiation therapy.

What are the side effects of radiation therapy?

Since radiation therapy is targeted to a specific area of your body, you will only experience side effects in this area.

Your radiation oncologist and treatment team will discuss the type of side effects you may experience before your treatment begins.

Two to three weeks after your radiation therapy begins, you may experience skin redness, dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling. These skin reactions may last throughout your treatment, and will usually resolve a few weeks after treatment has finished. Sometimes these effects may worsen towards the end of treatment and for up to two weeks after your treatment ends.

Another common side effect you may have during your treatment is fatigue, a feeling of exhaustion and lack of energy. As you reach the end of your treatment, your fatigue may worsen. Every person is affected by fatigue in different ways, which may also depend on whether you are receiving other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. Fatigue usually resolves a few weeks after the completion of your treatment. To best manage your fatigue, it’s important to find a balance between rest and activity.

Although most side effects are temporary and resolve after your radiation therapy has finished, there is a possibility that long-term effects may occur. Please discuss with your radiation oncologist as he/she is the best person to provide more details and this will be covered in the consent process before you start your treatment.

At Icon, we’re here to help you manage any side effects that you may have. Please talk to your care team about any side effects you are experiencing.

Will I feel nauseated?

If you receive radiation therapy targeted to your abdominal region, you may get an upset stomach and feel nauseated. This will usually resolve when your course of treatment finishes. Your oncologist can prescribe a medication to prevent and treat the nausea if needed. If you notice you are feeling nauseated for a prolonged period of time, please inform our team so we can suggest ways to manage this.

Does radiation therapy hurt?

Radiation is typically painless, similar to having an x-ray, and is targeted to the part of the body being treated. Please notify the radiation therapist if the position is causing you any pain, discomfort or is making you feel unwell.

How long does radiation therapy treatment take?

Radiation therapy is scheduled over an extended period of time, usually across 1-7 weeks. This allows healthy cells to recover while the dosage given is high enough to improve clinical outcomes. Each treatment session may last between 5 to 20 minutes.

Is radiation therapy safe?

Icon has international expertise in the delivery of accurate, pinpoint-precise radiation therapy to ensure safe and effective treatment.
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What is radiation therapy

Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, uses radiation to safely treat and manage cancer. Learn more about how treatment is delivered and what techniques Icon offers.
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Care team

Every member of the Icon team is here to help. Here are some of the team members you may meet and the role they will have in your care.
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