Even if the planning session went smoothly and everything is ready for you to start your treatment, you might still feel uneasy on the first day of radiation therapy.
During your planning session, your doctor or nurse may have told you not to apply deodorant, antiperspirant, lotion, or powder to the area that will be treated before your appointments. These items can interfere with the radiation. Learn about skin care during radiation so that you will be prepared before you go into your daily appointments.
Here's what to expect during a typical visit to the treatment center:
- You'll change into a hospital gown or robe when you arrive at the treatment center. You'll also need to remove any jewelry that might get in the way of the treatment.
- A radiation therapist will bring you to a treatment room where you will be placed in the treatment position. In general, you'll lie on your back with your arm raised above your head (on the side of the breast area being treated). Most treatment centers use an immobilization device to secure your position and make you more comfortable. If you are receiving radiation after mastectomy, the therapist may place a bolus (a flat piece of rubber-like material) on top of your skin, which increases the radiation dose to your skin and to the tissues right below it.
- Next, the technician will carefully line up the linear accelerator to treat the first treatment field. (Typically, you will have 2 different fields treated each day.) After the machine is positioned, the technician will leave the room. The technician can see you through a window or on a television screen and can hear through an intercom at all times.
- The technician will then turn on the machine to deliver the dose of radiation. Since you cannot feel radiation, the only way you will know when you are exposed is by the whirring sound of the machine. While the machine is running, you must remain completely still, though you don't have to hold your breath. It only takes between 30 seconds and a few minutes to deliver the radiation (depending on the type and dose of the radiation being used).
- The technician will then come back into the room to find the position for the next field to be treated. If you are receiving radiation to lymph nodes, you may have extra fields during the session.
- Each week, you will have X-rays taken of the treatment field. These are called port films. Your doctor uses these to double-check that the radiation is precisely hitting the correct areas of your body. Because the tattoos or marks on your skin can shift with your skin, it's important to have one more way to make sure that the treatment is precise.
"I wasn't afraid until the first treatment. I just got uneasy about having radiation aimed near my heart. But my doctor talked to me and she helped me understand why it was safe and how much effort went into targeting the dose where it belongs. It's important to learn to trust both your doctor and the treatment process."