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Total body irradiation (TBI)

Radiotherapy to the whole body is called total body irradiation or TBI.

Why you might have TBI

Radiotherapy is a treatment that uses high energy rays, similar to X-rays, to kill cancer cells. For some types of leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma, you might have radiotherapy to the whole body (total body irradiation) alongside high dose chemotherapy treatment.

The aim of this treatment is to try to cure the cancer.

Having total body irradiation

Total body irradiation (TBI) alongside high dose chemotherapy helps to kill off leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma cells in the bone marrow.

You usually have TBI treatment twice a day for 3 or 4 days. Or it may be just 1 or 2 radiotherapy treatments.

Radiographers give the treatment. They will explain to you how they plan and give radiotherapy.

The radiotherapy room

Radiotherapy machines are very big. Some are fixed in one position, but others rotate around your body.  

Before you start your course of treatment your radiographers explain what you'll see and hear. In some departments the treatment rooms have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music.

Photo of a linear accelerator

Planning treatment

First you have a planning session of about 90 minutes to create the treatment plan. You take off any jewellery, your watch and your glasses. You will also take out false teeth containing metal. You lie down on a treatment couch or stand up in a specially designed frame.

Treatment lying down

Your radiographers measure the thickness of various parts of your body and put small radiation monitors called diodes on your body. They might use padding material or gel bags between your knees and over your chest and neck. This is to make sure you receive an even dose of radiation throughout your body.

During the planning session, you have a very small dose of radiotherapy from a radiotherapy machine next to the treatment couch. The couch moves so you can have treatment to one half of your body. Then the couch turns so that the machine can give treatment to the other side.

Treatment standing up

You stand in a specially designed frame that supports you. First you stand facing the radiotherapy machine and then you turn so that your back is towards the machine.

Treatment sessions

Your radiographers help you get into exactly the same position as in your planning appointment. This can take up to half an hour. They tape small radiation monitors to some areas of your body to monitor the dose.

The lights in the room dim for a few minutes while the radiographers position you. They leave the room while the machine is on but they can watch you closely on closed circuit TV during the treatment. It is important that you stay as still as you can but you can breathe normally. The treatment takes up to 15 minutes on each side of your body.

You have a buzzer that you can press at any time if you need the treatment to be stopped. You don't feel anything but when the machine is on you will hear a beeping noise.

Last reviewed: 
16 Mar 2015
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