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Planning radiotherapy for advanced cancer

See how you have a planning scan and what happens during your radiotherapy planning session.

The radiotherapy team plans your external beam radiotherapy before you start treatment. This means working out how much radiation you need to treat the cancer and exactly where you need it.

Your planning appointment takes from 15 to 30 minutes. You have a planning CT scan in the radiotherapy department. The scan shows the cancer and the area around it.

Radiotherapy treatment machine

You lie on the scanner couch with the treatment area exposed. You might need to raise your arms above your head for a while. The radiographers put some markers on your skin. You need to lie very still.

Once you are in position the radiographers move the couch up and through the scanner. The radiographers leave the room, start the scan and monitor its progress. It takes about 5 minutes. You won't feel anything.

Before the planning appointment you might also have other scans, such as an MRI scan.

Ink and tattoo marks

The radiographers make pin point sized tattoo marks on your skin. They use these marks to line you up into the same position every day. The tattoos make sure they treat exactly the same area for all of your treatments. They may also draw marks around the tattoos with a permanent ink pen, so that they are clear to see when the lights are low.

Radiotherapy tattoo marks
Radiotherapy treatment area marks.

The radiotherapy staff tell you how to look after the markings. The pen marks might start to rub off in time, but the tattoos won’t. Tell your radiographer if that happens. Don't try to redraw them yourself. 

After your planning session

You might wait a few days before you start treatment. During this time the radiographers and your doctors create your radiotherapy plan.

Last reviewed: 
05 May 2016
  • Guidelines for the management of oesophageal and gastric cancer. British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), 2011.

  • Management of oesophageal and gastric cancer. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), June 2006.

  • National Oesophago Gastric Cancer Audits. NHS Information Centre. Annual Reports 2010, 2012 and 2013.

  • Oesophageal cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up. M Stahl, C Mariette, K Haustermans and others. Annals of Oncology. 2013. 24 (supplement 6) vi51-vi56.

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