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Who gives radiotherapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about the different specialists involved in giving radiotherapy treatment. There are descriptions of

 

Specialist radiotherapy doctors

In the UK, doctors who specialise in treating cancer with radiotherapy, chemotherapy and other drug treatments are called clinical oncologists. In some other countries, such as the USA, they are called radiation oncologists. In the past they used to be called radiotherapists.

 

The radiotherapy care team

Your clinical oncologist works as part of a multi disciplinary team (MDT) with other health professionals who are specialists in cancer treatment and care. This may include

  • A surgeon
  • A medical oncologist (a doctor specialising in cancer drug treatment)
  • Therapy radiographers
  • Radiologists (doctors who specialise in taking and reading X-rays and scans)
  • Pathologists (doctors who look at body tissues to diagnose illness)
  • Specialist nurses
  • Physiotherapists
  • Other health care staff such as occupational therapists or social workers

You may still see your own GP during and after your radiotherapy. But while you are having treatment you are in the care of the radiotherapy specialist, who plans, prescribes and supervises your treatment. You will see them, or a member of their team, regularly throughout your treatment. Between these appointments, you may see a specialist nurse or radiographer. One member of the team will be your key worker (main supporter) and you can contact them for information if you need it.

 

Specialists in radiation science

The medical team who prescribe and plan your radiotherapy work with scientists who specialise in radiation science and are called medical physicists or clinical scientists. They help to make sure the radiotherapy equipment is accurate and safe. They also advise on 

  • The best way of giving the amount of radiation prescribed
  • How long you need treatment from a particular radiotherapy machine to get the right dose

Other staff trained to use and plan the radiotherapy treatment work under the supervision of medical physicists and are called dosimetrists. You may not meet any of these people working behind the scenes. But you may meet the physicist if you have internal radiotherapy.

 

Radiographers

Therapy radiographers operate the machines that give you your treatment. They are highly trained in radiotherapy and patient care and work with the radiotherapy specialist and physicist to plan your treatment.

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You will usually see the same radiographers throughout your treatment so you get to know each other. They can give you help and advice about your treatment. Don't worry about asking them anything you are worried or anxious about. They can give you advice on coping with any side effects that you have.

 

Nursing staff

Like hospital wards, the radiotherapy clinic has nursing staff, usually a charge nurse (or sister) and a team of nurses. They look after your general needs, such as

  • Dressings
  • Medicines
  • Information about coping with side effects

They also give you advice and practical support.

 

Social workers

Social workers can advise about any problems you may have with

  • Practical matters
  • Money issues
  • Getting counselling and emotional support for you and your family

They may refer you to local agencies who can help you at home. Some people can claim travelling expenses. Others may apply for a grant from a charity.

 

Other radiotherapy staff

Many hospitals have a symptom control team. They give help and support to people whose symptoms or treatment are causing problems and they also link up with nurses who can continue to see you at home.

If you would like more information about radiotherapy, or you would like someone to chat to, contact our cancer information nurses. They will be happy to help.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 16 April 2014