Preparing for Radiation: Simulation and Treatment

Author: Courtney Misher, MPH, BS R.T.(T)
Last Reviewed: November 10, 2022

The first day of radiation therapy can feel overwhelming. This is normal. The following information is to help you feel more prepared and reduce some of your anxieties.

Where to Go and How to Get There

Ensure that you have the correct address and know which building you need to be in. Radiation oncology in most centers is on the lowest level of the building due to the radiation and the shielding. Many times, it is located below ground.

Prior to your visit ask about parking. Some facilities offer valet parking. Depending on your treatment center, parking may be free or discounted when you are coming for your daily treatments. Find out where and how to get the parking validated. If you are taking public transportation, map out your route before the first day. Find out where the closest bus stop or train stop is.

If you need wheelchair assistance, find out if there is someone there to help you or if you should plan to have someone come with you.

What should I bring with me?

You may want to pack a bag to bring with you for radiation each day. Some days will be there longer than others. Some items you may want to bring with you include:

  • Comfortable clothes – robe to go over the gown.
  • Non-slip socks or easy slip-on shoes.
  • Music to listen to. Most treatment rooms are equipped with a sound system.
  • A book or magazine to read.
  • Snacks or lunch.
  • Notepad and pen to take notes when you see your care team.
  • Essential oils, stress balls, or other items to help you relax.

For simulation and treatment wear comfortable clothing and shoes that are easy to take off. You will need to put a gown on. You will not be allowed to wear jewelry in the area being imaged and treated, it is best to leave jewelry at home.

Preparation for Simulation

Prior to starting treatment, you will have a simulation appointment. During this appointment you will be placed into the position you will be in everyday for treatment using immobilization devices and you will have imaging done (CT, MRI, and/or PET). This appointment is used to map your treatment plan. You will get tattoos, depending on the area of your body being treated, this is so the therapists can get you back into the same position for treatment every day.

To prepare for your simulation you will be given specific instructions depending on the area of your body that is being imaged and treated. You may need to:

  • Complete a bowel preparation.
  • Fill or empty your bladder.
  • Follow specific diet instructions (no eating after a certain time).
  • Take medications prior to appointment.
  • Practice breathing exercises.
  • Practice holding still or bringing your arms above your head.

Also, you will likely need to take a pregnancy test when you come for the simulation. Most facilities require a pregnancy test within 7 days of simulation. This is often done right before your simulation.

You will want to start thinking about what time of day is ideal for your daily treatment time. In some instances, you will make your treatment schedule the day of your simulation. Other times you will make your schedule over the phone after your simulation depending on your facility.

Preparation for Treatment

Your care team should give you treatment instructions prior to your first day of treatment. These may include some of the same instructions you had for simulation.

Your role in the treatment process:

  • Arrive on time for all treatment sessions. If you are stuck in traffic, having difficulty getting to treatment, or need to cancel your appointment you should call your care team and let them know. Make sure you get the phone number to call for this on your first day of treatment.
  • Ask questions and tell us your concerns.
  • Talk to your therapists and nurses about side effects you are having.
  • Eat a healthy diet or suggested diet from your care team.
  • Talk with your social worker about transportation, support, and coping with cancer.
  • Minimal weight gain or loss is ideal. Ask to talk with the dietitian if you are having trouble maintaining your weight.
  • Care for any skin reactions that may occur. Your team will give you skin care instructions.

When you arrive in the department for your treatment you can expect to either do a self-check-in at a kiosk or check-in at a front desk with the receptionist. You may be asked to fill out paperwork or do a weekly insurance verification. Expect to be in the department for an hour each day, some days will be longer and others will be shorter. If there is anything you are unsure of, please ask. Your care team is there to help answer all your questions.

Resources for More Information

Your Radiation Care Team

Radiation Therapy Treatment Process

Proton Radiation Therapy Treatment Process

Video: What to Expect During Radiation Therapy

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