Information about what happens when you have external radiotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma.
Why you have radiotherapy
Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to treat cancer cells.
You might have radiotherapy to a small area if you have limited (early) stage Hodgkin lymphoma. Limited stage generally means that you have stage 1 and 2A Hodgkin lymphoma.
You might have radiotherapy to shrink large lymph nodes if you have advanced Hodgkin lymphoma. Advanced disease is usually stage 2B, 3 or 4.
Where and when you have radiotherapy
You have radiotherapy treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department. Usually, you have treatment once a day from Monday to Friday with a rest over the weekend. The length of the treatment depends on the area being treated.
The radiotherapy room
Radiotherapy machines are very big. They rotate around you to give you your treatment. The machine doesn't touch you at any point.
Before you start your course of treatment your therapy radiographers explain what you will see and hear. In some departments the treatment rooms have docks for you to plug in your music player. So you can listen to your own music.
If you need to wear a mask for your radiotherapy treatment, the radiographers will position the mask over your face and attach it to the table. The mask keeps your head completely still while you have treatment.
During the treatment
You need to lie very still on your back. Your radiographers might take images (x-rays or scans) before your treatment to make sure that you're in the right position. The machine makes whirring and beeping sounds. You won’t feel anything when you have the treatment.
Your radiographers can see and hear you on a CCTV screen in the next room. They can talk to you over an intercom and might ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths at times. You can also talk to them through the intercom or raise your hand if you need to stop or if you're uncomfortable.
Dan (radiographer): Before your treatment starts your doctor will need to work out exactly where the treatment needs to go and also which parts need to be avoided by the treatment. To have radiotherapy you lie in the same position as you did for your planning scans. We then line up the machine based on your tattoo marks. It is really important that you stay very, very still when you are having treatment it is also important to let the radiographers know right at the beginning if you are not comfortable so they can adjust your position
Radiographer: Ok all done, we’ll be back in a couple of minutes
Dan (radiographer): We leave the room and control the room from a separate room This is so we aren’t exposed to radiation. Treatment takes a few minutes and you will be able to talk to us using an intercom. We can see and hear you while you are having your treatment and will check that you are ok. When your treatment starts you won’t feel anything; you may hear the machine as it moves around you giving the treatment from different angles. Because we are aiming to give the same treatment to the same part of the body everyday then the treatment process is exactly the same everyday so you shouldn’t notice any difference. You’ll see someone from the team caring for you once a week while you are having treatment they’ll ask how you are and about any side effects.
Patient: They get you from one sitting area to another and then take you into the room where you undress to the waist and then lie down and line you up by either moving you or asking you to shuffle a little and they check the dimensions and they talk to one another and they say I am fine this side how are you ...yes fine...ok, stay where you are Jeff and that was it. There were a few little clicks and lights go on and off and you can see a green laser beam which lines up with certain things on your body uh so no, no real noise and no discomfort.
You won't be radioactive
This type of radiotherapy won't make you radioactive. It's safe to be around other people, including pregnant women and children.
Travelling to radiotherapy appointments
Tell the radiotherapy department if you prefer treatment at a particular time of day. They can try to arrange this.
Car parking can be difficult at hospitals. It’s worth asking the radiotherapy unit staff:
- if they can give you a hospital parking permit
- about discounted parking rates
- where you can get help with travel fares
- for tips on free places to park nearby
If you have no other way to get to the hospital, the radiotherapy staff might be able to arrange hospital transport for you. But it might not always be at convenient times. To see if you're eligible they usually work it out based on your earnings or income.
Some hospitals have their own drivers or can arrange ambulances. Some charities offer hospital transport.
The most common side effects of radiotherapy during and just after treatment are:
- reddening of the skin in the treatment area
- loss of hair in the treatment area