Before your radiotherapy

Before you have radiotherapy, your radiotherapy team explain what the treatment involves. They will ask you to sign a form to say you give permission for them to give you the treatment (consent). Ask them to explain anything you do not understand.

Before you start treatment, you may also need information about:

  • preventing pregnancy. It may be important not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant during radiotherapy, and for some time afterwards. If you think that you may be pregnant during your treatment, tell your radiotherapy team straight away.
  • fertility. Your team will explain if your treatment might affect your ability to start a pregnancy in the future. They can explain options for preserving your fertility.
  • caring for your skin during treatment.
  • stopping smoking. This may make your treatment more effective and reduce your side effects.
  • practical things such as travel, time off work or coping during treatment.

Tell your team before or during your first planning appointment, if you have a pacemaker, ICD or cochlea implant (a hearing implant in your ear). Radiotherapy can affect how these devices work.

Giving consent

Before you have any treatment, your doctor will explain its aims. 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.

Before you are asked to sign the form you should be given full information about:

  • the type and extent of the treatment
  • its advantages and disadvantages
  • any significant risks or side effects
  • any other treatments that may be available.

If you do not understand what you have been told, let the staff know straight away, so they can explain again. Some cancer treatments are complex, so it is not unusual to need repeated explanations.

It is a good idea to have a relative or friend with you when the treatment is explained, to help you remember the discussion.

You may also find it useful to write a list of questions before your appointment.

People sometimes feel that hospital staff are too busy to answer their questions, but it is important for you to know 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 your 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 do not have it. It is essential to tell a doctor or the nurse in charge, so they can record your decision in your medical notes. You do not 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.


Research – clinical trails

Some people are offered radiotherapy as part of a research trial. Research trials are used to find new and better treatment for cancer. Taking part in research is completely your decision. Your team will explain what it involves. We have more information about clinical trials.

Remember that you can pull out of the trial at any stage. You have to trust that it won’t compromise your care, although I do understand that concerns people.

Ben


Pregnancy

It is important that you do not get pregnant during your treatment. This is because radiotherapy given during pregnancy could harm a developing baby. Your doctors will be able to give you more information about this.

Before you consent to having radiotherapy, you will need to confirm that you:

  • are not pregnant – you may need to provide a urine sample for a pregnancy test
  • understand you should avoid getting pregnant during treatment – this means you will need to use a reliable form of birth control.

If you think that you may be pregnant at any time during your treatment, tell the doctors and radiographers straight away. 

If you would like to have children in the future, talk to your doctor or specialist nurse before you start treatment. They can explain if there is a risk of the radiotherapy affecting your ability to have children (fertility). They can also discuss possible options of preserving your fertility. We have more information about fertility in women.

Fertility preservation was a stressful experience, but necessary. So I persevered and now have 15 lovely eggs stored and ready for when or if I need them.

Jenna


Making someone pregnant

It may also be important that you do not make someone pregnant during treatment, and for a few months after it has finished. You can ask your doctors for more information about this.

If you would like to have children in the future, talk to your doctor or specialist nurse before you start treatment. They can explain if there is a risk of the radiotherapy affecting your ability to have children (fertility). They can also discuss possible options of preserving your fertility. We have more information about fertility in men.


If you have a pacemaker, implantable cardiac device (ICD) or cochlea implant

If you have a pacemaker, ICD or cochlea implant (a hearing implant in your ear), you must tell your doctor or radiographer before or during your first planning appointment. Radiotherapy can affect how these devices work, so your treatment has to be planned to allow for them.


Skin care

Before your treatment starts, your radiotherapy team will give you advice about looking after your skin. This will depend on the type of treatment you are having and the area of your body being treated.

During your radiotherapy, you will need to take extra care of the skin in the area that is being treated. This is because radiotherapy may cause a skin reaction.

If you swim, ask your radiotherapy team whether you should avoid swimming. They may advise you to wait until a few weeks after you finish your treatment.


Other things to think about

Here are some other things to think about before you start your radiotherapy.

Help at home

Feeling tired is a common side effect of radiotherapy, so you may need help with day-to-day tasks. Although it can be hard to ask for help, family and friends are usually keen to do whatever they can. If you live alone or are caring for someone else, you can ask to see a hospital social worker. They can help you find out if there is any help available.

Getting to your appointments and travel costs

You may want to drive yourself to hospital for your treatment. But remember, you may feel more tired as your treatment progresses. If you feel tired, it is best to ask a family member or friend if they can drive you.

If you are worried about getting to the hospital, let the staff in the radiotherapy department know. They may be able to arrange transport for you. Some local support groups and charities also provide transport.

If you have difficulty paying for your travel, you may be able to get help with travel expenses. Some hospitals may offer parking permits, or reduced parking charges. They may also refund the cost of parking if you are having daily radiotherapy treatment.

You may have a long journey to the hospital. Some hospitals offer hotel accommodation where you can stay overnight. However, you may have to pay for this.

Planning meals and snacks

Treatment and travelling to and from hospital can be tiring. Eating may be the last thing you think about on busy days. But it is important to eat and drink well during your course of radiotherapy. 

If you can, plan ahead. Take snacks and drinks with you to hospital on your treatment days. Shop before your treatments so there is food at home. Choose meals that are easy to prepare or make meals you can freeze for later.

Smoking

Research shows that stopping smoking may make radiotherapy treatment more effective. It can also reduce the side effects of treatment.

If you smoke, try to stop. Many hospitals provide help or advice on how to quit smoking. Ask your clinical oncologist, radiographer, or specialist nurse if your hospital provides this service.

If they do not, your GP, a pharmacist or an organisation such as Smokefree will be able to help.

Work and study

If you are working or you are a student, it is a good idea to talk to your employer or tutors. They can make arrangements to support you and organise your time off during treatment.

Watch: Helen's story

Helen talks about her experience of working through cancer and how she asked her boss to make adjustments.

Watch: Helen's story

Helen talks about her experience of working through cancer and how she asked her boss to make adjustments.

Back to Radiotherapy explained

Your radiotherapy team

You will meet many different specialists from your radiotherapy team. You may see them before, during and after radiotherapy treatment.