(For treatment side effects and complications only)
Posted 14th October 2020
We have over 130 Therapeutic Radiographers here at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, including newly qualified Therapeutic Radiographer Emily Jones. Emily trained at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre as part of her student placement before supporting the team during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In celebration of Allied Health Professions (AHPs) Day Emily took us through a typical ‘day in the life’ of a Therapeutic Radiographer:
8:00am: A typical day for a Therapeutic Radiographer begins at 8am when one of the team will come in to ‘turn on’ the linear accelerators. This involves performing a quality assurance test called an ‘MPC’ check, which ensures that the radiation is 100% accurate and that the linear accelerator has met all the requirements to run safely that day. If there are any problems with this, we can call the physics department or the electronics staff to assist us.
8:30am: At 8:30am, we start to treat our patients. Each linear accelerator machine is able to treat all body sites, meaning day-to-day we see a wide range of patients with different types of cancer, including chest, breast, pelvis, brain, abdomen, lung, bones, gynaecological and colorectal cancer.
Different anatomical sites will have different set-ups, which means our patients will lie in different positions for their treatments. Patients with head and neck cancer will also have a custom-made mask, which is a mould of them from their shoulders upwards, made at their planning scan, which is used for their radiotherapy treatment. This mask helps keeps patients still during their treatment so we can safely treat them.
The treatment itself is approximately three minutes long but prior to treatment we take images to ensure the patient’s anatomy is in the exact same position as the planning scan. 8:45am: Patient appointments take around 15 minutes, so our second patient of the day will come in for their treatment at 8:45am.
This patient may be being treated for breast cancer. We would walk the patient into the treatment room, ask if they have had any side effects (e.g. tiredness, any pain, skin reactions) and discuss their general wellbeing. After this short chat, we would get the patient ready for their treatment, using the three tiny permanent tattoos they had made at their planning scan and line them up to the lasers in the room, ensuring they are in the exact same position every day. For breast cancer patients, we coach their breathing throughout their treatments, asking them to take a deep breath in and hold while we deliver their treatment, which moves the treatment area up and away from the heart and lungs. This prevents us unnecessarily exposing vital thoracic organs.
9:00am: We continue 15-minute appointments until the rest for the team come in at 10am before going on a break. If someone seems particularly unwell or unsettled that day we would liaise with Doctors or Clinical Nurse Specialists to determine if they may need a referral to another of our Trust services. This could be another AHP such as Dietitians, Speech and Language Therapists and Physiotherapists, the Maggie’s Centre (holistic care) or to the Clinical Decisions Unit department.
10:30am: We continue to treat patients every 15 minutes until our lunch. Sometimes our patients may be coming in for their last day of treatment and if they are they will sometimes ring the ‘End of Treatment Bell’. Our team all watch them ring the bell loud and proud, cheering them on and giving them a round of applause.
1:00pm: During the afternoon, the Therapeutic Radiographers who came in at 10am will take over treating patients and we get to work with completing ‘off-set tasks’. These tasks primarily include doing weekly checks where we ensure that all patients’ treatments for the past week have been correct and the appropriate imaging has been used. We also complete ‘dose calcs’ which involves checking that all the plans, appointment times and information for new patients is correct, completed and ready to go.
Also, while we are off-set we can speak with patients who are coming in for their first day of treatment. We help answer any questions they may have and explain the radiotherapy process so they know what to expect when they come into the treatment room.
Evidently, the day is very fast paced and varied. Every person we treat is individual and it’s important to tailor care and help ease any worries they may bring with them.
4:30pm: Finished for the day, same again tomorrow!