Your first planning visit will take 30–60 minutes. The staff in the radiotherapy department will explain what to expect and they will also tell you beforehand if you need to prepare in any special way. It‘s important for you to feel that you’re involved in your treatment, so feel free to ask as many questions as you need to.
You’ll usually have a CT (computerised tomography) scan taken of the area to be treated. This helps your oncologist and physicist plan the precise area for your radiotherapy. Before your scan, you may be asked to remove some of your clothes (from the area of your body that will be treated with radiotherapy) and to wear a gown.
The CT scan takes lots of images from different angles to build up a three-dimensional picture. You may have an injection of dye into a vein when you have the CT scan. This allows particular areas of the body to be seen more clearly. You may also be asked to have a full or empty bladder for the scan.
Instead of a CT scan, some people have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan or occasionally a PET (positron emission tomography) scan to help with planning their treatment. An MRI scan uses powerful magnetic fields to give a very detailed picture of the area that needs treating. A PET scan uses low dose radioactive glucose (a type of sugar) to measure the activity of cells in different parts of the body. Your hospital team will tell you more about these scans.
During your scan, you’ll need to lie still on a hard couch (sometimes called a table). If you feel uncomfortable when the radiographers position you on the couch, let them know so that they can make you more comfortable. This is important because, once you’re comfortable, the details of your position will be recorded. You’ll need to lie in the same position on a similar couch for your treatment.
The information from the scan is fed into a planning computer, which will be used by your radiotherapy team to work out the precise dose and area of your treatment.
Before your planning appointment, you may be asked to follow some instructions that will help the radiographers get a clearer picture. For example, you may be asked to follow a special diet or to drink plenty of water.
Depending on the type of cancer you have, extra procedures might be needed as part of your planning treatment. If this is the case, you will be given information about them.