Planning your treatment for cervical cancer

Before you start radiotherapy, your treatment is carefully planned. Your first planning visit usually takes 30 to 60 minutes. Your team will explain what to expect. They may ask you to drink plenty of water before your visit or give you an enema to empty your bowel.

You will lie on a hard couch and have a scan. You may have to remove some of your clothes and to wear a gown for this. Marks may be drawn on your skin to help your team position you accurately. You will have to lie in the same position for your treatment. So it is important you are comfortable.

The scan is used to work out the precise dose and area of your treatment. This can take up to two weeks.

You prepare for treatment in the same way as the planning scan and you lie in the same position. You may then have another scan and then you have radiotherapy. Treatment only takes a few minutes.

Once your treatment session has finished, you can go home. Or, if you are staying in hospital, you can go back to the ward.

Planning your treatment

Your radiotherapy will be planned by your clinical oncologist with the support of a technical team. The planning is done to make sure that:

  • the radiotherapy targets the cancer accurately
  • it causes as little damage as possible to nearby tissue.

Cervical cancer is often treated with image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT). This means that, as well as a first planning visit, you will have further planning done at each treatment. This involves having images taken before each treatment to check the size and position of the tumour. Then adjustments can be made to allow for any changes.


First planning visit

Your first planning visit will take 30 to 60 minutes. The staff in the radiotherapy department will explain what to expect. It is important you feel involved in your treatment, so ask as many questions as you need to. The staff will tell you beforehand if you need to prepare in any way. For example, they may ask you to drink plenty of water or give you an enema to empty your bowel.

You will usually have a CT scan of the area to be treated. This helps your doctor and radiotherapy team plan the precise area for your radiotherapy. Before your scan, they may ask you to remove some of your clothes and to wear a gown.

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 bladder for the scan and use an enema.

Instead of a CT scan, some people have an MRI scan or a PET/CT scan to help with planning their treatment.

During your scan, you need to lie still on a hard couch. If you feel uncomfortable when the radiographers position you on the couch, let them know so they can make you more comfortable. This is important because, once you are comfortable, the details of your position will be recorded. You will need to lie in the same position on a similar couch for your treatments.

The information from the scan is fed into a planning computer. Your radiotherapy team will use this to work out the precise dose and area of your treatment. It can take up to two weeks to plan your treatment.

The radiographer may need to make some small marks on your skin. This is to help them position you accurately and to show where the rays will be directed. These marks must stay visible throughout your treatment. They are usually permanent marks, like tiny tattoos. These will only be done with your permission. It may be a little uncomfortable while they are done.


Treatment sessions

At the beginning of each session, your radiographer will explain to you what you will see and hear. They may ask you to have a full bladder for each treatment. They may also ask you to take off some of your clothes and wear a gown. This lets the radiographers see the tiny marks made on your skin so that they can position you correctly. If you are having IGRT, the radiographer will take images just before each treatment. These images are used to make sure the radiotherapy is targeted precisely at the treatment area.

Once you are comfortable and in the correct position, the radiographers will ask you to keep as still as possible. They will leave the room for a few minutes while you have your treatment. You can talk to your radiographer, who will watch you from the next room via closed-circuit TV (CCTV). The radiotherapy machine does not touch you and the treatment is painless. You may hear a slight buzzing noise from it while you are having your treatment.

Once your treatment session has finished, the radiographers will come back and help you off the treatment couch. You will then be able to go home or, if you are staying in hospital, back to the ward.

Back to Radiotherapy for cervical cancer explained

Who might I meet?

You will meet many different specialists before, during and after radiotherapy treatment.

After treatment

It can take time for your body to recover after finishing treatment. Advice and support is always available.