Starting radiation therapy

Knowing what to expect can help you prepare for your first radiation therapy visit

Radiation therapy at Icon

We understand that starting radiation therapy can be very overwhelming. Knowing what to expect can help you prepare for treatment and ease any anxiety you may be feeling.

At Icon, we believe in a personal approach to radiation therapy. This means that you will receive a personalised radiation therapy plan for your specific needs.

Watch the video below to learn more about your first day of radiation therapy at Icon from our care team and patients.

Your first visit

At your first appointment, you will meet with your radiation oncologist who will talk you through your diagnosis and treatment plan, including time frames. The type of radiation therapy you receive and the length of your treatment will depend on the type of cancer you have, your preferences and your general health.

Make sure to ask any questions that will help you gain a good understanding of your diagnosis. Our team will be here to address them anytime during your treatment.

Find out what types of questions you should ask your doctor.

We encourage you to bring a family member, friend or carer to be part of this discussion. They can be there for support and can also ask any questions you may not think of.

It’s normal to feel some anxiety at this time, and we are here to help you and your family work through this.

What do I need to bring with me?What do I need to bring with me?

Completed Registration, Medical History and Consent to Collect Information forms (unless these have already been provided to the centre)
Medicare card, Seniors card, DVA card, or any other relevant healthcare cards
Current referral letter from your referring practitioner (unless this has already been provided to the centre)
A list of your current medications including names, doses and frequency (your pharmacist will be able to provide you with an up-to-date list, or you may choose to bring in original packaging and scripts)
All X-rays, CTs, MRIs, bone and other radiological or nuclear medicine scans/reports you have obtained during the investigation of your medical condition
Pathology reports for blood and histopathology tests (your referring doctor may send these directly to us or give them to you)

Your radiation therapy planning session

Radiation therapy planning, also called a simulation session, is the first step in your radiation treatment. It is a practice run of your treatment without any radiation involved. At your appointment, our care team will review your personal medical history to determine the most appropriate way to treat you. This may take two to four hours and can involve multiple appointments.

A radiation therapist will collect you from the waiting room and may ask you to change into a gown before they take you into the simulation room. During this session, your care team will determine your radiation therapy treatment position. This will involve using a CT scanner, which identifies the exact location of your cancer and surrounding structures to localise the areas you are having treated. Extra equipment may be required to identify a specific position.

As this position needs to be accurately repeated throughout your treatment, you may require very small permanent and/or non-permanent marks to assist with this process. Any marks needed for your treatment will be fully explained during your planning session.

At the end of your planning session, your care team will talk to you about the session and answer any questions you may have.

Your radiation therapist or nurse will discuss how to care for your skin during radiation therapy and suggest appropriate clothing to wear during treatment.

They will also let you know if you will need to prepare for your treatment before each appointment (for example, if you need to have a full or empty bladder).

What to expect during your radiation therapy treatment

Radiation therapists are responsible for delivering your treatment. When starting radiation therapy, you will be set up in the same position you were in at your radiation therapy planning appointment. This might be checked with a CT scan or X-ray.

Once you have been correctly positioned, your radiation therapist will operate the machine from a control centre outside of the room. They will be there to monitor you throughout the treatment. There are microphones present if you need to speak with your radiation therapists.

You will not feel or see the radiation during your treatment, but you will hear the machine operating. It is important that you remain still until you are told that you can move. Each treatment session will only last 15 to 20 minutes.

Radiation therapy is scheduled over an extended period of time, usually from weeks to months, to ensure your sessions are as short as possible and that healthy cells can recover. Regular reviews will occur throughout your treatment. This is to ensure the treatment is progressing well and allow for any changes to your planned course of treatment. Nurses will regularly check in with you at your appointments to see how you are feeling and provide information and support.

Frequently asked questionsFrequently asked questions

Does radiation therapy make you radioactive?

External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) does not make you radioactive, and it is perfectly safe for you to be with and around other people, including children, throughout your treatment.

Can I miss a radiation therapy treatment appointment?

Your individual radiation therapy treatment plan has been carefully calculated, so it is important that you do not miss any appointments. However, if missing an appointment is unavoidable, please discuss this with your radiation therapists as soon as you can.

Will I lose my hair?

Radiation therapy is a local treatment, meaning it only affects the area of the body where the radiation is targeted. Unless your radiation treatment is targeted at an area where hair grows, such as your scalp or face, you will not lose your hair. People having radiation therapy for breast cancer may find their underarm hair will 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 do so, please advise a team member immediately.

Will radiation therapy affect my fertility?

This depends on where you are having 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 influence fertility, as the pituitary gland normally signals the ovaries to ovulate. Radiation to both testes in men is rare, however if you require this therapy your fertility may be affected. Your doctor will talk to you about how your treatment may impact your fertility. Please speak with your radiation oncologist should you or your partner wish to become pregnant, or if you have fertility concerns.

Does radiation affect pregnancy?

It is important you are not pregnant or become pregnant at any time during radiation therapy, as x-rays for positioning can harm the foetus. If you think you may be pregnant at any time, it is extremely important to discuss this with a member of the radiation therapy team. If you wish to become pregnant after your treatment please discuss this with your radiation oncologist prior to commencing.

Can I father children during radiation therapy?

For men having radiation therapy to their pelvic region, it is advised that you do not father children during treatment. Radiation therapy may damage your sperm, which can lead to birth abnormalities. If you wish to father children after this treatment, please discuss this with your radiation oncologist prior to commencing.

People who receive radiation therapy may experience skin dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling. These usually resolve a few weeks after treatment has finished. A common side effect is fatigue, a feeling of exhaustion that does not improve with rest. Your level of fatigue may depend on whether you are undergoing other treatments, such as chemotherapy. Although most side effects go away after radiation therapy has finished, some long-term effects may occur.

As radiation therapy is localised to an area of the body, you may only experience side effects in this area. Your radiation oncologist and treatment team will discuss the type of side effects you may experience, however it is important to advise of any effects you notice.

Will I feel nauseated?

If you have radiation therapy to your abdominal region, you may get an upset stomach and feel nauseated. This will usually resolve when your course of treatment is completed. 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 therapy is typically painless and most patients will feel  little to no discomfort during treatment. You will not see the radiation, but you may hear noise from the equipment. Please tell the radiation therapist if the position is causing you pain or is making you feel unwell.

How long does radiation therapy treatment take?

Radiation therapy is scheduled over an extended period of time, usually from weeks to months, enabling sessions to be as short as possible and for healthy cells to recover. A treatment session may only last 15 to 20 minutes, however you may need to attend other appointments, such as seeing your radiation oncologist.


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