Practical things to consider when you're having radiotherapy
There are some things that it might help to consider before you begin radiotherapy treatment.
Getting to your appointment
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Most hospitals charge for car parking, but many will offer reduced charges or reimburse the cost of parking for people who are having radiotherapy. Ask the radiographers about the arrangements at your hospital when you come for treatment.
You may want to drive yourself to hospital for your treatment, but if you have to drive a long way each day, you’re likely to feel tired after a while. Tiredness is a common side effect of radiotherapy. You may want to think about asking a relative or friend to drive you to the hospital if you do feel tired.
If you rely on public transport or the help of a relative or friend, you can sometimes arrange your appointments at a time that suits you both. However, due to the number of people having radiotherapy, it’s not always possible to get an appointment exactly when you want it.
Some hospitals provide transport. If you need this, the hospital’s transport department will assess your needs and, if possible, make the arrangements for you. Some local support groups and charities also provide hospital transport.
If transport is a problem, or if you live a long way from the hospital, you may need to stay in a ‘hostel’ ward in the hospital or nearby. Sometimes it’s possible for the hospital to organise local accommodation while you are having radiotherapy.
If you’re having difficulty meeting the cost of travelling to the hospital each day, you may be able to get a grant towards your travel expenses. People on a low income may be able to claim help with the costs of travel from the Department of Work and Pensions or through the Hospital Travel Costs Scheme. Some charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Support, provide travel grants, and so do some local support groups.
You can ask the staff in the radiotherapy department or a hospital social worker for information on travel costs, grants and advice on how to claim. We have more information about the financial benefits and support that might be available to you.
Before you have radiotherapy, your doctor will explain the aims of treatment to you. They will usually ask you to sign a form saying that you give permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give you the treatment. No medical treatment can be given without your consent, and before you are asked to sign the form you should have been given full information about:
the type and extent of the treatment
the advantages and disadvantages
any significant risks or side effects
any other treatments that may be available.
If you don’t understand what you’ve been told, let the staff know straight away so they can explain again. Some cancer treatments are complex, so it’s not unusual for people to need repeated explanations.
It’s often a good idea to have a relative or friend with you when the treatment is explained, as they can help you remember the discussion more fully.
You may also find it useful to write down a list of questions before you go to your appointment.
People sometimes feel that the hospital staff are too busy to answer their questions, but it’s important for you to be aware of how the treatment is likely to affect you. The staff should be willing to make time for your questions.
You can always ask for more time if you feel that you can’t make a decision when the treatment is first explained to you.
You are also free to choose not to have the treatment. The staff can explain what may happen if you don’t have it. It’s essential to tell a doctor, or the nurse in charge, so they can record your decision in your medical notes. You don’t have to give a reason for not wanting treatment, but it can help to let the staff know your concerns so they can give you the best advice.
Women of childbearing age will be asked whether they might be pregnant, as radiotherapy given during pregnancy could harm a developing baby. If you think that you may be pregnant, tell the doctors and radiographers immediately and you’ll be offered a pregnancy test.
Research has shown that stopping smoking during and after radiotherapy may make the radiotherapy more effective. It can also reduce the side effects of treatment, improve your general health and reduce your risk of developing other cancers. Not smoking or cutting down at such a stressful time can be very difficult. If you want help or advice on how to quit, you can talk to your clinical oncologist, GP or a specialist nurse. Organisations such as QUIT can also offer advice and support.