Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy

As the patient you are the most important person at the radiotherapy centre. Your well-being is of paramount importance to us and we strive to make your treatment as pleasant and comfortable as possible. Remember, you will be surrounded by people who know what you are going through so don't be afraid to ask questions or seek support from our staff.

The aim of radiation is to control malignant conditions. Radiation works by destroying certain cells within your body - fortunately malignant cells are more easily destroyed than normal, healthy cells. To get the best results, the treatment is divided into a number of small doses, which will be given to you daily. Different tumours need different types of treatment, so don't necessarily compare your treatment with that of your fellow patients, friends or family members.

Your treatment will be planned in conjunction with your radiation specialist. It is important to take the necessary time to plan your treatment correctly, therefore, expect this process to take some time. During planning we will use x-rays to locate the exact area that will be treated and then mark those areas with ink. If the area that needs treatment is in the head or neck, it might be necessary to make a mask of this area. The various pieces of information are then fed into a computer, which aids in the final planning of your treatment. This takes a further day or two. On completion you will be given an appointment for your first treatment session.

On arrival for your first treatment we will once again make a few ink marks on you, indicating the centre of the treatment area - it is very important that you don't remove them. If we have made you a mask, it has two purposes:

  • We don't have to make marks on your face; we put them on the mask.
  • It stops you from moving your head during treatment.

The radiotherapist will put you on a special movable bed, after which she will set up the machine accurately for your treatment. The positions and treatment times are checked by more than one person - something that you don't have to worry about. Unfortunately, we can't stay in the room during treatment, but we do watch you on a TV monitor.

You most probably know that having an x-ray is completely painless and radiotherapy treatment is exactly the same.

The number of treatments needed vary and may take up to six weeks. During this time your doctor will see you weekly. If you have any problems or queries during the treatment process please tell the radiotherapist and, if necessary, she will arrange for you to see a doctor.

For more information, please contact a Life Healthcare hospital nearest to you. For hospital contact details, click here

Reaction of the body to radiation

Each person's body reacts differently to radiation. Most people experience very few problems or discomfort. A few people may feel tired or nauseous - depending on the severity of the reaction it is sometimes necessary to give the patient a break between treatments.

Because the skin may become red or irritated, it is very important to follow these instructions:

  • The treated area must not be washed.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing made from natural fibre, for example cotton or wool.
  • Do not scratch the treated area.
  • No creams, aftershave, make-up, etc may be applied to the treated area. Only use creams prescribed by us.
  • If you have to shave - only use an electric razor.
  • Do not use plaster, Mercurochrome, etc. on treated area.
  • Avoid exposing the area to the sun.
  • Other complications depend on the area which is treated.

Head and neck
Only hair on the treated area may fall out but it usually grows back after two to four months. If your whole skull is treated you may lose most of your hair - if you need a wig, the staff at the radiotherapy centre can advise you about getting one.

Sometimes patients develop problems with swallowing, a painful mouth or throat, and small white sores in the mouth. As soon as you notice this, report it to the radiotherapist. We can prescribe medication to ease this. Avoid smoking and alcohol during treatment as they will make these symptoms worse. Your sense of taste might also be temporarily affected.

The abdomen
During treatment you may suffer from diarrhoea and nausea if we are treating the actual stomach. Report this immediately so that we can prescribe an appropriate medicine. If your stomach is functioning normally, drink plenty of liquids.

If your anus becomes irritated, don't scratch or use toilet paper. Wash it carefully with a soft cloth and lukewarm water - no soap - pat dry with a soft towel. Apply the prescribed cream. Wear loose underclothes made of natural fibre such as cotton. If your bladder is in the radiated area, your urine may burn and/or you may find that you have to urinate often. We can prescribe something to help with this. Female patients receiving treatment in the pelvis area must avoid sex for at least six weeks after the radiotherapy treatment has been completed.

Nutrition and radiotherapy

During radiotherapy the patient experiences various side-effects, depending on the type of treatment. We will now look at the problems that may occur and how you can adjust your diet to help alleviate them.

Radiation of the head and neck

Swallowing problems:
Liquids are better tolerated than solids, especially if taken at room temperature. They also keep the mouth moist. Soft-cook all food or mince or liquidize after cooking. Milk and milk products such as buttermilk or yoghurt are very healthy and can be taken in large quantities. Eggs can be added for an eggnog or ice cream for a milkshake. Avoid alcohol, but an occasional glass of beer is acceptable. Avoid fizzy cool drinks. Avoid strong herbs and spices in food - also acids such as vinegar and lemons.

Radiation of the abdomen

Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea:
When these symptoms occur continually, follow a clear liquid diet until the condition improves. This includes clear cool drinks (for example apple juice), clear soup, thin soup (Bovril, Marmite, chicken stock, etc), jelly, strained soup. No milk must be consumed.

After this follow a light diet:
Low fibre foods such as white bread, cream crackers and the liquids as mentioned above. No strongly flavoured or fatty foods. Steamed fish, meat, chicken and well-cooked vegetables are allowed.

The following tips help for nausea:
Eat dry biscuits or toast, don't drink liquids while eating, avoid fatty bread spreads (rather use Marmite on toast without butter or margarine). Sweet foods make nausea worse.

Radiation below the diaphragm

Constipation:
Include plenty of fibre in your daily diet. Drink at least six to eight glasses of water per day. This makes the fibre swell and encourages peristalsis in the intestine - reducing the chances of constipation. Replace refined food with high-fibre food such as white flour for whole wheat. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables - where possible, unpeeled. Grate or cook the fruit if you can't eat the raw food. Stewed dried fruit is healthy - it contains lots of fibre, gives energy and is full of vitamins. Try and add one to two teaspoons of digestive bran to your food.

Colostomy

Follow a normal diet but avoid the following:

  • gas forming foods;
  • fibre-rich foods; and
  • foods which cause bad smells

Gas-forming foods:

  • Cabbage, onions, eggs, ripe cheeses, dry beans and peas, beer, milk, nuts, fish, sweets, sweet potatoes, asparagus.

Fibre-rich foods:

  • Fruit with pips and raw fruit, coconut, tomatoes, raw vegetables.
  • Foods, which cause bad smells.
  • Fish, chicken, eggs, onions.
  • Low fibre foods to relieve diarrhoea.
  • Mashed banana, grated apple, rice, tapioca, maizena porridge, barley soup.

Counselling

Counsellors form an integral part of the radiotherapy team and are available for counselling sessions. If you feel the need, please do not hesitate to make an appointment with a councillor - they are there to provide additional support and all sessions are completely confidential.

General

If you have problems after hours, please call your local emergency service and the doctor on duty will help you. You can also phone the general practitioner where you will be helped with problems not related to your condition. If you need help with your colostomy or need a breast prosthesis, don't hesitate to ask.

After completion of your treatment you will come for regular check-ups so that we can monitor your progress. If you wish to change appointments, please let us know well in advance.

Please ask questions if you are uncertain about anything. It is completely natural to be afraid of the unknown - so please feel free to talk to us at any time.