Knowing what to expect during and after treatment can help you prepare and reduce any anxiety that you and your family may be feeling. The following information has been put together to help you understand radiation therapy treatment, and we hope to reduce any concerns you have.
Radiation therapy for childhood cancers
Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, uses x-rays or gamma rays to treat and manage cancer.
What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, uses radiation to safely treat and manage cancer by destroying cancer cells, reducing the growth and spread of cancer or relieving cancer symptoms.
Radiation therapy attacks cancer cells and limits damage to healthy cells, as cancer cells are more sensitive to radiation.
When small doses of radiation are provided over a period of days and weeks, normal cells can recover from the radiation, but cancer cells cannot
Radiation is typically painless, similar to having an x-ray, and is targeted to the part of the body being treated.
How is radiation therapy delivered?
Icon uses evidence-based radiation therapy techniques and technology to deliver accurate radiation to tumours and treat all cancer types of various size, type and location.
Radiation therapy can be the sole cancer treatment, or provided in combination with other treatments such as chemotherapy and surgery.
Treatment is usually provided each day (Monday to Friday) over a number of weeks, which allows the radiation to target cancer cells and provides healthy cells with enough time to recover over the weekend. The course of radiation therapy will be personalised based on the location and stage of the cancer, type of cancer, and the child’s age and general health.
As radiation therapy can cause long-term side effects in children and young adults, your Paediatric Haematologist-Oncologist will discuss this treatment option with you to help you make an informed decision.
The treatment experience for children and young adults
For the safe and accurate delivery of radiation therapy, patients have to keep still during their treatment. This can be challenging for some children, particularly younger children. An anaesthetic or sedation may be safely given for children who are unable to keep still during treatment.
Before radiation treatment starts, patients will also need to attend pre-treatment appointments, which will include radiation therapists making personalised moulds that will be used during each radiation therapy treatment, to make sure you are in the correct position every time. Depending on the type of cancer these may include body moulds, called vacuum bags patients lie on during treatment, or for head and neck cancers a radiotherapy mask which patients wear for each treatment to ensure they are in the same position every time.
Although radiation therapy is a non-invasive, generally painless treatment, children and young adults can find the equipment and environment stressful and overwhelming. Factors such as – radiotherapy masks which can cause feelings of claustrophobia, being alone in the treatment room, the sound of the machine and having to stay still can make children feel anxious about their treatment. Icon’s experienced doctors and care team work closely with patients and their families to find suitable mechanisms to help cope with treatment anxiety and make their treatment journey as comfortable as possible.