You might need to have a radiotherapy mask or mould made before you start treatment. They can also be called shells. They keep the treatment area of your body still each time you have your radiotherapy. So your treatment is as accurate as possible.
You might need a mask for radiotherapy of your head and neck. Or a mould for your arm or leg, or more rarely for your breast.
You can see through most types of masks or moulds, as they usually have lots of small holes. The radiographers (sometimes called radiotherapists) might make marks on them. They use the marks to accurately line up the radiotherapy machine for each treatment. It is important that you are in exactly the same position each time.
It takes between 10 to 45 minutes to make a mask or mould.
Preparing for a radiotherapy mask
The mask is normally made directly against your skin. It's helpful to wear clothing that you can easily take off. You also need to take off any jewellery from that area.
Having a lot of facial hair can make it difficult to make a head and neck mask. The radiotherapy staff will advise you about any hair issues at your planning session.
Making a radiotherapy mask
A mould technician or radiographer makes the mask in the mould room of the radiotherapy department or during your CT planning scan.
The process of making a mask can vary slightly between hospitals. Most often they use a special kind of plastic heated in warm water or an oven so that it becomes soft and pliable. Your technician puts the plastic mesh on to your face so that it moulds to fit your face exactly. It feels a little like having a warm flannel put onto your face. You can still breathe easily, as the plastic has lots of holes in it.
After a few minutes the plastic mesh becomes hard. Your technician takes the mask off. It is then ready for use.
The video below shows what happens when you have your mesh mask made:
Voiceover: Making a mesh mask for radiotherapy takes a few minutes.
Radiographer: I am just going to heat this up now if you just keep nice and still there and just want to close your eyes for us.
Voiceover: The radiographer softens the mask by putting it in warm water for a minute or two. When the radiographer puts the mask on to your face it will feel warm and damp. They then clip it to the bed that you are lying on. It takes a minute or two to dry into the shape of your face. The radiographers will mark the mask where the light lines are.
Radiographer: OK, you are just going to feel us pressing down on the mask there; you are doing really well are you still ok?
Voiceover: They use the marks on the mask to line up the machine each time you have treatment. The mask keeps you head still and makes sure that your treatment is directed at the cancer. They put your name on the mask and keep it in the radiotherapy department ready for your treatment.
Patient: They told me about the procedure, a mask being fitted, that it would be moulded to the shape of my face. Which they did, three lovely girls put my mind at ease sat me down heated the mask moulded it around my face, not an uncomfortable thing at all to go through.
If you are having a mould for radiotherapy treatment to your arm or leg, you go through the same process as for a face mask.
Your technician or radiographer may also need to make a personalised leg or arm rest for you, as well as the mould.
For radiotherapy to the breast, you might need a breast mould to bring the breast up and keep it in the same position for each of your treatments.