Starting Radiotherapy 1st February - I have some questions


I am due to start radiotherapy on Monday week.  I am very concerned about it as from what I’ve been reading it will be 12 weeks since I had the lumpectomy and this is a long time wait and I worry that it pointless having it. 

I had a phone call yesterday from a girl in radiotherapy who asked if I had any questions.  It was out of the blue so she was explaining what will happen and questions kept popping into my head, luckily Chris, my husband was listening as well and he  kept writing things down.  She said I have to wear a loose bra because of friction. Do I need to wear the bra that I wore after surgery or can I just wear the type I wear every day? Another question I forgot to ask is do I wear deodorant and can I use body lotion.

I have already started to take Tamoxifen and I’ve got 5 days of radiotherapy.  I don’t know if this is a fast forward week or if it was decided I only needed one week.  Originally I was told that I would be having 3 weeks.  When I mentioned it to the oncologist that I thought it would be 3 weeks but the surgeon had said it might be a week because of covid, she said that that it had nothing to do with covid.  She said it has been found that 3 weeks are no better than 1 week.

I have said it before, but I feel completely on my own, all the advice I have had has been from here and I don’t know what I would do without it.

Wendy xx

Hi there - I had radiotherapy 3+ years ago, but shouldn’t think the process has changed too much.  I had to remove all my top clothes and wear a hospital style gown throughout each session - it’s much easier for the radiotherapy staff to get to the area to be treated.  I just wore my usual underwear for the trip to and from the hospital.  As for toiletries - I was advised against using them throughout this treatment.  I applied some non scented cream to the radiated area after each session.

Hope this part of your treatment whizzes by for you. D

hi Callista

im having rads at moment…had number 10 today…5 more to go…

.I finished chemo in November and had a seven week gap…I wouldn’t worry that you have had a 12 week gap if your team are ok with it…it won’t be pointless as the aim of it is to reduce the risk of a recurrence of your cancer in the future…I don’t wear any bra at all…just joggers and a long sleeved loose t shirt…here you are given a gown to change into every day and give back in at the end of the rads…I found this more of a faff so just strip my top off when I get in the room…so do whatever works best for you…definately no deodorant and perfume my team said…I was given a huge tub of cream to use twice daily…each rads team seem to have their own preference so I would wait and see what they give you on the first day.  Some people have 1 week fast forward and others the 3 week treatment…I am having 15 because I’m also having to node area I was told…I am weighed once a week as it’s very important not to lose or gain weight during rads and I am reviewed by the rads consultant every week …mostly I get seen on time…sometimes a matching has broken down so there are delays but always lots of people to chat to…but it’s been very straightforward…a walk I. The park after chemo! I hope yours also goes very smoothly

Hi Wendy

This pandemic is a b***** isn’t it? Everything bar the treatment done by phone but, if it’s any consolation, I was introduced to radiotherapy face to face and I hadn’t the foggiest what to ask.

First, hopefully to reassure you, I’ve seen several references to the 5 days v 15 days radiotherapy argument. Some hospitals have moved with the research, some haven’t yet. What I will say is that I am certain your MDT wouldn’t risk any treatment that wasn’t in your best interests.

Second, the treatment. Don’t fear it till you know there’s something to fear! I sailed through it and thought it was a doddle after chemo wiped me out. The worst thing that happened was a small itchy patch front and back, which only lasted a few days. However, we have to acknowledge that some people have different experiences - you just don’t know so why worry about what you can’t do anything about?

Don’t use an antiperspirant throughout the treatment. If you have to, use a crystal deodorant once you get home (you can get them from health food shops and Holland & Barrett). They work as effectively but contain nothing to interfere with the treatment. Similarly, don’t use talc. You will need a cream that is not oil-based. I used the Aqueous BP (from Boots or Amazon) I was given for treating my mastectomy scar. Aveeno and some of the E-45 lotions are as good. Just no oil. Use it generously before you dress after treatment.

You can wear your usual bra but, if you do find you react quite quickly and get sore, common sense will tell you to wear a seamfree support bra or go bra-less if you can. You remove all your upper clothing to swap for a hospital nightie anyway for the treatment. Leave any neck chains you wear at home - it’s easier and safer.

Your first session will be measurements. You just lie back, let them put you into positions with your arm aligned with or above your shoulder. They adjust you by millimetres and them make the marks, first in biro, then 3 tiny tattoos. These will enable them to get you into the same position every day. You may find they are very high-tech and also use a wooden ruler!

The treatment takes less time than undressing does. You lie on the bed, are shifted gently into position, then a part of the machine is wound down according to where the beams are required to go. You hear a faint beam-y noise and then the machine moves on. You may have treatment from different angles, according to your cancer location. Then up you get, go and smooth some cream in and get dressed. Maybe 5 minutes, with 3 minutes of treatment?

Some people experience fatigue so make allowances for that - maybe get someone to take you? You may find by mid-week that you do feel really tired. Don’t push yourself. If you experience any pain or burning sensation, this isn’t unusual but must be reported as it may affect your treatment. Once the week is over, you may wonder what next? It really is a case of wait and see. I experienced burning pain in my breast muscle a couple of months after treatment. This is normal. And the fatigue took a long time to go. Perhaps hardest was knowing that that was that: the treatments were over (apart form the hormone therapy). You can feel a bit at sea. Remember your breastcare nurse is still there for you and any radiotherapy-related concerns go straight to the breastcare nurse attached to that department. 

I completely understand this idea of feeling completely alone. It’s an odd feeling. Your husband wants to help but doesn’t know how (well, yours does - make notes!). Be prepared for friends being delighted you’ve finished treatment. Unless they have had breast cancer, they really think it’s over and done with. It’s not. Do you use Breast Cancer Haven? It’s a local charity in 9 regions of the UK but currently they offer online courses via Zoom free of charge and you may find something there to suit your needs. It’s good to be with people who understand what you’re feeling and several courses address things like managing stress.

I think I’ve covered it all. Sorry for going on a bit!

Hope it goes smoothly next week.

Jan x

Hi Callista,

Try not to worry about the time gap - they always want women to have healed well from the op before commencing radiotherapy so even pre-covid times there’s usually quite a gap.

Wear a top which is easy to remove and soft against your skin. Any soft bra is best - since over the cause of the treatment your skin might feel a bit sensitive, a bit like sunburn. Natural fibres will also let air to your skin which might help a tad.  I chopped up an old T-shirt of really soft 100% cotton and placed a piece of the fabric between my skin and my bra to help reduce any friction on the sensitive skin.   

Don’t use any cream on your skin before radio - the hospital will give you a special cream which will help your skin through the treatment (plus I see Jaybro’s just posted with some additional info on this).

Re deodorants - they usually give you a list of a few products which are ok (if you are not having radio to your underarm?).  The radiographers (6 years ago) told me that many/most products contain metal compounds which can reflect/bounce the otherwise precision targeted radio beam - which clearly is not desirable! 6 years back ‘Salt of the Earth natural deodorant’ was on the list of products which could be used (Holland & Barrett used to sell it) - not sure if it still is - you could try phoning your breast care nurse or BCN to ask if they know - although I’m sure other women will let you know on the forum.   

Some women also find using 100% aloe vera on the skin (only after radio, not before treatments) helps, however it’s quite hard to find one that is pure…unless you have an aloe vera plant to hand which is happy to donate a few leaves to a good cause!

Re length of time of the radio - I understand that there are two different forms which can be used, the older longer series of zaps (this was all they had 6 years back), and a newer shorter approach which they started using for some patients a few years ago. So put your mind at rest on that front.

Do post again if you have any other q’s. Take it one day at a time and if you get fatigue just rest when you need to. You should also do the exercises which were recommended for post op recovery to help.

Re Jaybro’s post about pre-radio mark up session…throughout your radio sessions it helps to pretend you are a piece of putty and let the radiographers very gently nudge you into position!

I hope the above helps - I’m sure the sessions will fly by soon enough.

Seabreeze X