You might have radiotherapy for vulval cancer. This is usually after surgery but you may have it beforehand.
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.
Before the scan
The radiographers tell you what is going to happen. You might need to drink a certain amount of water before you have the scan. They will tell you how much.
You put on a hospital gown. When you are ready the radiographers help you into position on the scanning 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. Do tell the 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, the radiographer asks you about any medical conditions or allergies. Some people are allergic to the contrast.
Having the scan
Once you are in position the 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. The radiographers can see you from the CT control area where they operate the scanner.
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.
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.
A CT scan is safe for most people but there are some possible risks. Your doctor and radiographer make sure the benefits of having the scan outweigh these risks.
Rarely, people have an allergic reaction to the contrast medium. This most often starts with weakness, sweating and difficulty breathing. Tell your radiographer immediately if you feel unwell so they can give you medicine.
There is a risk that the contrast medium will leak outside the vein. This can cause swelling and pain in your arm but it’s rare.
Exposure to radiation during a CT scan can slightly increase your risk of developing cancer in the future. Talk to your doctor if this worries you.
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.