Frequently Asked Questions
If you have questions about radiation therapy or how the whole treatment process works, you may find them already answered here.
Your surgeon, medical oncologist or GP can refer you to one of our Radiation Oncologists. You may also contact us directly and we will put you in touch with a Radiation Oncologist with specialty in the cancer type you are enquiring about. You will be given an appointment time for a first consultation which will take place in the Radiation Oncologist's rooms, more often than not, this will be at ARO in Epsom, Auckland. Instructions will be given to you regarding any information you need to bring with you or any special requirements for this first visit.
Your Radiation Oncologist will notify ARO of your need for radiation therapy after which we will contact you with a time and date for your first visit with us. The timing of this will depend on your condition - whether or not we need to wait until your surgery wound heals, your chemotherapy or hormonal therapy is completed, the urgency of your need for therapy etc.
This will depend on your level of health insurance or whether you have insurance at all. An estimate of your costs will be provided to you before you begin your course of treatment. We will assist you with gaining prior approval from your insurance company.
You will be allocated a time to have a treatment planning Computed Tomography (CT) scan, in most cases this will be done on site at Auckland Radiation Oncology. Sometimes you may be required to have a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) or an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan; in any case we will be in touch prior to your treatment planning appointment with more detail on how to prepare for this.
Please follow the instructions from your Radiation Oncologist with regard to eating, drinking and taking medication prior to this appointment. There are detailed instructions relating to this at the back of this folder.
At the treatment planning appointment a patient care specialist will explain the procedures in more detail and answer any concerns that you might have about ARO or your treatment.
With your permission, very small permanent marks (about 1mm in diameter) will be placed on the skin in the treatment area. This allows us to correctly position you for treatment each day.
To ensure accuracy throughout your treatment at ARO it may be necessary to make an immobilisation device at the time of your scan, for example if your radiation therapy involves the head or neck area we’ll need to make a special mask.
Your treatment planning appointment may take a few hours to complete, in most cases; before you leave you will be given a schedule for all further visits to ARO. You’ll need to allow 30-60 minutes for each subsequent treatment visit.
Remember to bring:
- Doctors’ letters
- Insurance prior approval letter if required
- Details of relevant tests and prior treatment reports
- Radiology (i.e. CT, US, MRI, PET-CT) CD’s or films.
During the days following your treatment planning appointment the team works together to plan the ideal treatment plan for you, this involves a highly sophisticated planning software system and review process to guarantee safe and effective delivery of treatment. Your Radiation Oncologist will oversee your care throughout this process.
Most treatments will be accomplished well within a 30 minute timeframe, but we suggest you allow up to an hour each day in case of delays.
Treatment courses last from one day to seven weeks depending on the area of the body being treated and the purpose for treatment. Your Radiation Oncologist will explain the length of your treatment course and what that means for you.
ARO will be open Monday to Friday and will usually be closed on weekends and public holidays. There may be some instances where we treat on these days but you will be informed of this well ahead of time.
You will be given a schedule of all your appointments at your first visit. These will usually be at the same time each day where possible and depending on your own travel arrangements. You will be asked your preference for appointment times and your needs will be met as closely as possible.
This is not something we encourage but we understand that sometimes it cannot be helped. In general, an appointment is added on to the end of your schedule to ensure you receive the prescribed number of treatments and receive the maximum benefit of your radiation therapy. If several appointments are missed, you may have extra appointments prescribed. This is something that needs to be discussed with your Radiation Oncologist. We strongly suggest you meet all your appointments to ensure the outcome of your course of treatment is not compromised.
Parking on site is free to patients of ARO. Entrance to the parking building is through Gate 3 off Mountain Road and you may park in the ARO designated car parks on level 2, or in any other undesignated car park. A short walkway leads from the parking building into the MercyAscot building where you will turn right up the short flight of stairs to Auckland Radiation Oncology. There is a lift available to those who aren’t able to use the stairs.
If it’s more convenient for you to be dropped off, you may enter through the front of the building. You’ll find directions by clicking here.
Under most circumstances there is no problem with driving yourself to and from treatment appointments. Your Radiation Oncologist will advise you if it’s unwise to do so.
We will endeavour to begin your treatments within a week of your first visit to our centre. This will be dependent on the complexity of your treatment plan and the way that treatment will be delivered. Where possible you will be given a schedule of all your appointments at the time of your first visit.
You will be scheduled to see your Radiation Oncologist during your course of treatment. The purpose of these visits is to check that you are coping well with the treatment and to monitor side effects. Your treatment team will also able to assist you on a daily basis. They will arrange for you to see your Radiation Oncologist more frequently if necessary.
We encourage everyone to live their lives as normally as possible while they are having treatment. We will do our best to schedule your appointments to allow for this. Fatigue is a side effect of radiation therapy, so we suggest you take this into account. Most people can manage this with regular rest scheduled during the day and perhaps an earlier bedtime. Some find they need to take a break from work or prefer to stay at home during this time. Everyone's situation is different and we will work with you to find a solution that is best for you. Mild exercise is a good way to manage the effects of radiation therapy fatigue and depending on your circumstances, you may find walking for 30 minutes, yoga or tai chi, three times a week will help you cope with fatigue.
This question is best answered by your Radiation Oncologist on an individual basis. Generally this should not be a problem if this has been your normal routine. We do not encourage anyone to start a vigorous exercise routine if this is new to them. We do encourage mild exercise if possible, for example walking, yoga or tai chi three times per week. Adding regular exercise to your way of life after you have completed treatment is to be encouraged and should be discussed with your treatment team.
By all means make healthy diet changes while you are having treatment, but any extreme changes need to be discussed with your doctor. We recommend a healthy balanced diet of whole foods, with plenty of vegetables and fruit. In a few instances, for example for those patients undergoing radiation therapy for prostate cancer, a special diet will be recommended to you. This diet is to minimise problems with bowel gas that cause the prostate gland to move during treatment. This will be explained to you by your Radiation Oncologist and treatment team. We do not encourage any efforts to lose weight while you are on treatment. If you feel you need to lose weight, this can be discussed with your doctor once you have completed radiation therapy. There is a dietitian available at ARO to assist you with healthy diet advice if required.
This depends on what area of your body is being treated and needs to be discussed with your Radiation Oncologist. In certain situations we do not recommend the drinking of alcohol, for instance for those patients undergoing treatment for head and neck cancers, as this can worsen the side effects. Smoking is also discouraged as it slows the healing process, and can further damage the tissues in the head and neck regions.
Radiation therapy is painless and you will not feel or see the radiation. It is like having a long x-ray. The effect of the treatment is cumulative and the side effects can cause you some discomfort over time. These side effects and the management of them will be discussed with you at the time of your initial consultation with your oncologist. To learn what side effects are commonly associated with radiation treatment for your specific cancer, visit the Cancer Library page that most closely fits your diagnosis. We also have some information about managing side effects on the During Treatment Page.
Much research has gone into preventing, minimising and treating the skin effects caused by radiation therapy. ARO's protocols reflect this research and we will endeavour to do all we can to prevent and minimise skin reactions. The level of skin reaction you will experience depends on many different factors. These include:
- The amount of radiation your oncologist has prescribed for you
- How quickly your Radiation Oncologist wants that radiation delivered - that is over how many days/weeks
- Where you are being treated, for example, head and neck areas tend to exhibit increased radiation reactions due to skin that has already been damaged over the years by the sun. Breast patients may find they have an increased reaction under their breast due to the skin surfaces rubbing against each other
- Patients who smoke will usually have worse skin reactions than non-smokers.
You will be provided with information on how to minimise these reactions and help with managing them should they arise.
In general, a follow-up appointment will be made for you to see your Radiation Oncologist a few weeks after you finish your treatment. Your Radiation Oncologist will then continue to see you every few months. The effect of radiation therapy is cumulative and the treatment will keep on working for some time after you finish. The peak of reactions will generally occur 10-14 days after you finish your radiation therapy. For this reason you need to continue taking care of yourself, as if you were still on treatment, for a few weeks after your course of treatment ends. Any additional care you may require will be discussed with you and organised before your last day of treatment.
You may also phone ARO to ask for advice and assistance. In addition to this, a member of your treatment team will phone or email you in the weeks immediately following your treatment course to check that all is well with you.
This is possible under some circumstances and depends on whether or not we are treating the same area as previously and what the total dose was to that area. This would be discussed with you by your Radiation Oncologist should the need arise.