Radiation Therapy Thermoplastic Mask
If your treatment plan includes radiation therapy to your head, neck, or brain then you will most likely have to get a thermoplastic mask made for treatment. The mask will be made at the time of the simulation. It will be worn every day for treatment. Thermoplastic masks are made of a plastic material and look like mesh.
The purpose of the mask is to keep you in position to ensure accurate delivery of the radiation beam. The mask will be worn each day for treatment. When wearing the mask during treatment, if you need to communicate with the therapists you can do so with your hands. You can give a thumbs up or thumbs down to answer simple questions asked by the therapists. If you need the therapists, raise or wave your hands and they will come to check on you.
What personal items need to be removed prior to making the mask?
- Dental work.
- Head scarfs.
- Bobby pins, etc.
What is the mask-making procedure?
Once your mask is made, avoid any major hairstyle changes, including facial hair. You will be asked to put on a gown for this procedure and for your daily radiation treatments. Often times you will get a CT scan in the position you are in after the mask is made, with the mask still on. The mask-making procedure takes about 15-30 minutes.
The mask starts off hard, it is then placed in a warm water bath and becomes pliable after about 3-4 minutes. Often times gauze, stockinette or other like material is placed over your hair to ensure the mask does not stick to anything it shouldn’t. Once the therapists remove the mask from the water bath the excess water is wiped from the mask and it is gently stretched over your face. You will be lying on your back. You will want to continue breathing normally.
The mask will feel warm and wet, similar to a hot towel that would be used during a facial. The mask is then secured to the table using clips. The therapists will use their fingers to mold the mask and ensure that it takes the proper shape of your head, face, eyes, ears, and throat. There are holes in the mesh mask that will make it easy for you to breathe and see. You will want to remain still while the mask cools and hardens. The mask takes about 10 minutes to cool and harden.
What other immobilization devices are used with the mask?
Some patients may be asked to use a bite block or mouthpiece with their mask. There are several types of bite blocks, but they all serve the same purpose. It is placed inside your mouth to hold your mouth and jaw in the same position. It can also be used to help reduce side effects, by depressing your tongue. Bite blocks are soft pieces of dental wax or plastic that are placed in your mouth. You will be asked to bite on it for a few minutes until it hardens. A mouthpiece is similar to a mouth guard used in sports. If your provider wants you to use the bite block or mouthpiece it will be placed during the simulation and used every day for treatment with your mask.
Why is the mask important?
The mask is important for your treatment because it holds your head and neck still and in the exact position needed for treatment. This helps ensure that your treatment is as accurate and as effective as possible. In most cases, after your treatment is complete you are allowed to take your mask home with you.
National Cancer Institute. External Beam Radiation Therapy for Cancer. 2018. Found at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/radiation-therapy/external-beam
MacMillan Cancer Support. Masks for Radiotherapy. Found at: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/treatment/types-of-treatment/radiotherapy/masks-for-radiotherapy