Planning radiotherapy

Your radiotherapy team carefully work out how much radiation you need to treat the cancer and exactly where you need it.

Radiotherapy mould (shell)

Your treatment team might make a mould (shell) for you.

You wear it during the treatment sessions to keep you very still. The radiographers may also make marks on it. They use the marks to line up the radiotherapy machine for each treatment.

The process of making the shell can vary slightly between hospitals. It usually takes around 30 minutes.

Before making the shell

You need to wear clothes that you can easily take off from your neck and chest. You also need to take off any jewellery from that area.

Facial hair, long hair or dreadlocks can make it difficult to mould the shell. The radiotherapy staff will tell you if you need to shave or to tie your hair back.

Making the shell

A technician uses a special kind of plastic that they heat in warm water. This makes it soft and pliable. They put the plastic on to your face, neck and chest so that it moulds exactly. 

After a few minutes the plastic gets hard. The technician takes the shell off and it is ready to use.

Photograph of a mesh plastic mask used for radiotherapy for cancer of the head and neck and brain

The staff explain what is going to happen. Having the shell made won't hurt. But it might feel a bit strange to have someone working so near to your face. 

The video shows what happens when you have a mask made. The video lasts 1:38 minutes.

You might have a dental impression made with gel. The technician will put the gel into your mouth and take an impression of your teeth. This takes between 5 and 10 minutes. The technician also makes an impression of your lower jaw and neck.

Planning your treatment

The radiotherapy team plan your external radiotherapy before you start treatment. This means working out the dose of radiotherapy you need and exactly where you need it.

Your planning appointment takes from 15 minutes to 2 hours.

You usually have a planning CT scan in the radiotherapy department.

The scan shows the cancer and the area around it. You might have other types of scans or x-rays to help your treatment team plan your radiotherapy. The plan they create is just for you.

Photo of a CT scanner

Radiotherapy mould (shell)

You wear your radiotherapy mould during the planning session to help you stay in the correct position.

Your radiographers tell you what is going to happen. They help you into position on the scan couch. You might have a type of firm cushion called a vacbag to help you keep still.

The CT scanner couch is the same type of bed that you lie on for your treatment sessions. You need to lie very still. Tell your radiographers if you aren't comfortable.

Injection of dye

You might need an injection of contrast into a vein in your hand. This is a dye that helps body tissues show up more clearly on the scan.

Before you have the contrast, your radiographer asks you about any medical conditions or allergies. Some people are allergic to the contrast.

Having the scan

Once you are in position your radiographers put some markers on your skin. They move the couch up and through the scanner. They then leave the room and the scan starts.

The scan takes about 5 minutes. You won't feel anything. Your radiographers can see and hear you from the CT control area where they operate the scanner. 

After your planning session

You might have to wait a few days or up to 3 weeks before you start treatment.

During this time the physicists and your radiographer doctor (clinical oncologist) decide the final details of your radiotherapy plan. They make sure that the area of the cancer will receive a high dose and nearby areas receive a low dose. This reduces the side effects you might get during and after treatment. 

Related links