My First CT Planning Session
Most commonly your first visit to a radiotherapy department will be for a planning CT scan. You should have already seen your Doctor (Clinical Oncologist) in a clinic where he/ she would have explained why you need radiotherapy and got you to sign a consent form. She would have also written a referral form for radiotherapy and someone from the radiotherapy department would have contacted you with this appointment.
When you first arrive at the radiotherapy department, you will need to check in at reception and wait for a radiographer to come and find you and explain exactly what will be happening during your appointment. Most (if not all) patients are very nervous and anxious. This is completely normal, and one of the roles of a therapeutic radiographer is to help and guide you though the process and reduce your anxieties.
You may have thought of new questions about your treatment or cancer that you did not ask during your initial consultation with your Oncologist. Make sure you ask the radiographer these questions. If they are unable to answer them they should be able to find someone who can. There is no point in worrying unnecessarily - also make sure you have a contact number for the department before you leave. You may think of another question and a quick phone call could put your mind at rest.
After you have spoken to the radiographer, you will be taken into the CT room. Some departments ask that you change into a gown beforehand. A radiotherapy CT scanner looks the same as a diagnostic CT. The major differences are with the software and what it is able to do with the data it collects.
The staff will ask you to lie on the couch in the correct position required for your radiotherapy treatment. The couch is hard and many patients do find it uncomfortable, so please inform the radiographers as early as possible if you will be unable to maintain this position each day so they can assist you. You will be on the couch for around to 30 minuets, and have to remain as still as possible during this time, whilst also trying to relax and breathe normally!
The therapy radiographers will draw on your skin with felt pen. They will then use these marks to take measurements and plan your radiotherapy treatment. These pen marks will wash off when you have a bath or shower and this is not a problem as long as you do not scrub at the area and make it sore. When the radiographers are ready they will leave the room and go to the control area to operate the scanner, they will be watching you at all times, so raise your hand if you need them to re-enter the room in an emergency to assist you. Patients often ask "If it is so safe why do the radiographers leave the room for each scan?" The honest answer is it is safe to have the scans, but the radiographers would be exposed to, too high a dose of radiation over the course of a year as they scan around 50 patient's a week!
During your CT scan the couch moves in and out of the 'polo hole' shaped part of the Machine. Nothing will touch or hurt you, and you will not feel anything. When the scan has finished the radiographers will come back into the room. As the pen marks drawn on your skin will wash away, they need to give you some small permanent dots so you can be placed in the correct position each day when you attend for your radiotherapy treatment. These dots are permanent tattoos, but they are only the size of a small pen dot, and therefore are most likely to be confused for a freckle or hair follicle by any non-medical professional.
Before you leave the radiotherapy department you will be given your treatment start date and time. This can be several weeks after your CT planning scan, to allow for the computer planning process to be completed. This takes place without the need for you to be present in the department, and the complexity of the plan required will determine the time span between CT scan and start of treatment. Please inform the radiographers at your CT scanning appointment if you have any specific time preferences for your radiotherapy treatment appointments, as the treatment machines are normally very busy.
Reviewed: March 2015