The Radiation Oncology Department is part of the Canterbury Regional Cancer & Haematology Service and is located at Christchurch Hospital. It is one of only two public departments in the South Island that provide cancer patients with Radiation Therapy treatment.
Access to the Radiation Oncology Department is through the Christchurch Hospital main entrance where you follow the yellow line down to the Lower Ground Floor until you reach the Radiation Oncology Department.
The department currently sees 1600 patients per year with an average of 100 treatments delivered each day. The department's working hours are 7.30am - 4.45pm.
The centre has four treatment machines, known as Linear Accelerators or Linacs. It also has a CT scanner and a High Dose Rate Brachytherapy machine capable of delivering internal radiation treatment.
For more information about Radiation Therapy, please watch the video below.
If you are using an older browser and cannot play the video above, it can be viewed on vimeo.com instead.
You are welcome to bring family or support people with you when you come for your appointments in the Radiation Therapy department. They may accompany you into the room while you are moved into the correct position but will be asked to leave the room before your treatment starts.
Radiation Oncology is a specialised field of medicine that is primarily devoted to the treatment of cancer, although it can be helpful in some non-cancerous conditions.
Radiation Therapy treatment uses high energy radiation or x-rays to destroy cancer cells. Radiation treatment only affects the part of the body where the radiation beams are aimed. It can be used as a curative form of treatment or to help control the symptoms caused by your cancer.
Radiation treatment may be given alone or used either before or after surgery or combined with chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy. Different forms of treatment are used with different types of cancer.
Radiation has been used successfully to treat patients for more than 100 years. In that time, many advances have been made to ensure that Radiation Therapy treatment is safe and effective.
Cancer is an the uncontrolled growth of any cells within the body which may invade nearby or more distant parts of the body. Cancer cells replace normal tissue and use up the nutrients and physical space required by healthy cells forming a mass known as a tumour.
The process by which radiation kills cancer cells is very complex but in simple terms: the radiation damages the cells in a way that results in them no longer being able to grow / function properly. The damage caused cannot be repaired and causes the cell to die.
Healthy cells may also be affected but they have a better ability to repair the damage caused and so survive the radiation treatment. It is also important to know that Radiation treatment is carefully planned and accurately given to ensure that normal healthy tissues are avoided as much as possible.
In some circumstances Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy are given as a combined treatment to make them more effective.
External Beam Radiation treatment is delivered by a Linear Accelerator which uses electricity to generate different forms of high energy radiation.
The machines are large and make a buzzing sound when they are switched on and although sometimes they get a little close they shouldn't touch you and do not cause any discomfort.
The Linacs are also equipped to take high-quality x-rays pictures which are used to confirm that you are in exactly the right position before we treat you.
Brachytherapy is a special form of radiation treatment that uses radioactive sources. The sources are placed on or near to the cancer providing a concentrated dose of treatment to a very precise area.
Brachytherapy may be used alone or in combination with External Beam Radiation Treatment.
A treatment plan will be designed to suit the individual needs of each patient. The number of treatments will vary from two to four treatments over a period of one to two weeks. The treatment times are approximately 10 minutes, with the complete process taking one hour.
If your doctor has recommended that you have a course of Brachytherapy you will be given more information by the Radiation Therapists or Oncology Nurse.
Radiation treatment is delivered by a Linear Accelerator which uses electricity to generate forms of high energy radiation.
The machines are large and make a buzzing sound when they are switched on and although sometimes they get a little close they shouldn't touch you and does not cause any discomfort. The Linacs are also equipped to take high-quality x-rays pictures which are used to confirm that you are in exactly the right position before we treat you.
To minimise side effects, treatments are usually given 4-5 times a week, Monday - Friday for a set number of appointments. This allows the delivery of enough radiation into the body to kill the cancer while giving healthy cells time to recover.
If you would like a tour of the Radiation Therapy department, please see the notice on our About Radiation Oncology page.
Once the decision has been made by you and your oncologist to progress to Radiation Treatment, a planning appointment will be posted to you. Planning is necessary to pin point the area to be treated and the position you will need to be in for your treatment.
This appointment will take place in the Computed Tomography (CT) planning room in the Radiation Therapy department. This appointment will include an education session and the planning CT scan.
If there is a requirement for some preparation prior to the CT, a letter will be sent to you explaining what you need to do, or a staff member will phone you to discuss the instructions. It is important that these are instructions are followed, as they can impact on the quality of the scan. If you have any concerns or questions about this please just contact the Oncology Deparment.
You are welcome to bring a support person/s with you for the appointment.
During the first part of the session, a Radiation Therapist (RT) will discuss the planning process and treatment with you and ensure that you have all the information that you require. We can also refer you to a number of support services to help you throughout your treatment if needed.
The second part of the appointment is a CT scan. A CT scan is a computerised x-ray procedure that produces images of the inside of your body allowing the doctor and the RadiationTherapist (RT) to see exactly where they need to deliver the treatment.
The scan is painless and usually takes about 20 -30 minutes. During this time the RT will get you to lie in the position that you need to be in for treatment. It is important that you are as comfortable as possible to ensure that you can relax and remain still for your treatment. Please tell the RT's if there is anything that they can do to make you more comfortable.
After the scan, the RT's may need to place some permanent marks (small freckle sized tattoo dots) onto your skin. These small marks help us to ensure that you are in exactly the same position each day when we give you your treatment.
After your CT you should be given an appointment letter telling you when you will start your treatment. If your start date is unknown at that time of the scan then you will be phoned as soon as it is arranged. Please note that there is a gap between your planning and treatment start date to allow the radiation therapists and your doctor to produce a treatment plan specifically for you. This gap is normally no longer than 14 days.
If we are treating your head and/or neck area we may need to make an immobilisation mask. This process involves draping a sheet of warm, wet, bendy plastic over your head and shoulders and then allowing it to cool and harden so that it makes as exact mould of your head. The mesh allows you to breathe normally while you are in the mask.
The mask is very important as it ensures that you remain comfortably still and are in the exact same position each day to ensure precise delivery for your treatment. All marks can then be drawn on your mask. The mask will be made at the time of your planning CT.
The mask making process takes approximately 10 minutes and will be done at the same time as your planning CT if it is needed. The RT's will discuss the process with you in more detail at the education session prior to the scan.
On the first day of your treatment you will need to check in with the receptionist on the Lower Ground floor who will direct you to the waiting area.
If for any reason you cannot keep your appointment please contact us as soon as possible by telephoning 3640-020.
If you are driving to the hospital for your appointments refer to Location for directions. Please note that parking is very limited so allow extra time for finding a car park if driving to your appointments. See the hospital information on car parking and alternative travel.
A Radiation Therapist will collect you from the waiting room and sit with you prior to the treatment to discuss your treatment and what to expect. This is a recap of the information given to you previously by your doctor and the Radiation Therapist at your CT planning session. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have.
You will also be given your treatment appointment times for the week ahead. You may have a preferred time for your treatment and we will try to accommodate your request if possible.
If you need to change into a gown or trousers the RT will show you to the changing room before taking you to the treatment room.
It is normal to feel nervous or apprehensive about your first day of treatment but most people find the treatment a lot easier than they imagined. However if you do feel anxious the treatment team will be more than willing to discuss any concerns you have.
Radiation therapists work in teams and its likely that you will meet several different members of the team during your treatment. Usually 2 people from the team will treat you each day.
You need to be in the same position you were in when you had your CT planning scan so we will take some time making sure that you are in the correct position on the couch. This can take a few minutes. All you need to do is relax, breathe normally and let the Radiation Therapists move you (if required).
The total amount of time spent in the treatment room is usually 10-20 minutes but your first treatment will take longer as we will check your treatment plan once again. The treatment team will also take an x-ray picture to verify you are in the correct position. If we need to make any small, final adjustments we may come back into the room to do this or we may move the couch from the Control Area outside, in which case it's possible that you'll notice the couch move slightly. Again, all you need to do is relax, keep still and breathe normally.
Once you are positioned correctly, the Radiation Therapists will deliver the treatment. You are alone in the room when the machine is switched on but the staff will watch you on closed circuit television screens. During your treatment you will not feel or see anything but the machines make a small buzzing noise. It is important that you remain relaxed and very still during the treatment. Please do not move until the Radiation therapist tells you that your treatment is complete.
During your treatment you will also have appointments, usually once a week, with your oncology doctor. These are held in the same part of the building. The department also has specialist nurses, dieticians and other health professionals who can support you during your treatment if necessary.
The number of treatments you receive and therefore the number of visits to the Oncology department will depend on the total dose of radiation prescribed for you. Your radiation treatment is usually given on weekdays however you may be asked to attend at the weekend if maintenance is required on a treatment machine.
A small number of people may need to stay in hospital during treatment.
You are welcome to bring family or support people with you when you come for your treatment appointments. They may accompany you into the room while we move you into the correct position but will be asked to leave the room before your treatment starts.
You may experience side effects during your treatment. These side effects may get worse in the week to ten days following your treatment but then they should gradually begin to get better. The staff will educate you about this when you finish your radiation treatment.
You will be given a follow up appointment, usually for about 4-6 weeks after finishing, to come back and see your radiation doctor or the doctor who originally referred you to Oncology. At this appointment the doctor will assess how the radiation treatment has gone and may ask to see you again in the future.
For all other concerns, not related to your cancer or radiation treatment, you should continue to visit your GP.
Canterbury Regional Cancer and Haematology Service provides the Paediatric Radiation Therapy Service for children in the South Island.
We work alongside the Children's Haematology and Oncology Centre (CHOC)
The Paediatric Team has a unique buddy system that is used for all children attending for Radiation Therapy treatment. The buddy will be a Radiation Therapist, who will follow the child and family through the treatment journey. They are a point of contact for the child and family and, through play, will support the child in order to make them feel as comfortable and relaxed about the treatment as possible.
In preparation for treatment, a tour of the department and play sessions can be organised so the child and family can become more familiar with the area. There is also an introductory video that the child and family can watch together.
While on treatment, there are a range of resources provided, such as iPods, movies, music, toys and games to make the time pass more quickly.
Please discuss any questions you may have regarding Paediatric Radiation Therapy with your child's Radiation Oncologist.
Radiation Therapy can cause various side effects to the area of the body receiving radiation. Some of these are short-term and may occur only during treatment and for a short time after treatment finishes. Others may be more long-term.
It is important to remember that because everyone is different their reaction to treatment differs too. Many people experience very few, or even no, side effects at all. Your Radiation Oncologist will discuss possible side effects with you before your treatment starts.
There are many factors that determine which, if any, side effects you may experience. They include:
The effects of the radiation increase in your body over the course of treatment so its unlikely that you will experience any side effects straight away. They tend to appear after a week or so, reaching a peak about 7 to 10 days after your treatment finishes and then subsiding.
Some side effects are general while others depend on what part of the body we are treating. The most common general side effects are:
It is possible that the treatment may make you feel tired or generally fatigued. This is because your body is working to repair the damage that the radiation causes to normal, healthy tissue. Of course, travelling to the centre each day can also be tiring.
Please see the Cancer Society Fatigue Information Leaflet for more information.
Radiation therapy can affect the skin in the area being treated. Many people don't notice any change at all but some people experience symptoms similar to sunburn. Your skin may become red, or darker, and sore.
The Radiation Therapists treating you will look for signs of soreness but its important that you tell them if your skin is becoming tender or sore. In a few cases the reaction may be quite severe, causing the skin to peel. If this happens it's possible that you will be given a break in your treatment to allow your skin to recover, but sore skin usually begins to settle down a few weeks after your treatment finishes.
Your treatment team will provide you with written information about the specific side effects that you may experience with your treatment plan. Please ask them if you haven't received this information.
These patient information leaflets have been developed by the Oncology Service, Canterbury DHB. They are intended for patients having radiation treatment in the Christchurch Hospital Oncology Department.
During your radiation treatment you may come across many health professionals.
This information is designed to help you understand who everyone is and the role that they play in your care
Your Radiation Oncologist is the doctor that is in charge of your radiation therapy treatment. They have specialist training in cancer as a disease, it's treatment, and radiation. They are involved in the planning of your treatment and will see you regularly in clinic before, during and after your radiation therapy treatment.
Each Radiation Oncologist works with a registrar. These are qualified doctors who are undergoing more training to specialise in Oncology. You may see a registrar in clinic both before, after and during your treatment.
Radiation Therapists are involved in the planning and delivery of your radiation treatment. You will see them each day during your treatment. Their job is to ensure that the treatment is delivered accurately and to provide care and support to you. In the department Radiation Therapists are recognisable by their uniform of a dark teal or blue top, navy cardigan or jumper and black trousers or skirts.
Registered/Enrolled nurses specialise in the care of patients with cancer. They assist the oncologists with their clinics and provide care and support for patients who experience treatment side effects. The nurses in Christchurch Oncology Department are recognisable by their light blue tunics and navy trousers
This group includes Radiation Oncology Medical Physicists, Medical Physics Registrars and Medical Physics Technicians. Although you may not come into direct contact with these people, they have an important part to play in your radiation treatment. They are involved in the treatment planning process and ensure the accuracy of the treatment machines by following a rigorous testing and maintenance regime. They also commission new equipment and validate new treatment techniques.
The Canterbury Regional Cancer and Haematology Service participates in the training of Radiation Therapy students. The students may be involved in your care but are always under the supervision of a qualified Radiation Therapist. A student should always introduce themselves to you as such and ask your permission to be involved in your care. Our student Radiation Therapists are recognisable by their uniform of a jade or navy blue top with dark trousers/skirt.
During your treatment you may be referred to other health professionals or support services. These may include dietitians, speech & language therapists and social workers. See the Support Services page for more information on these support services.
Following are some general questions and answers about Radiation Therapy treatments.
External Beam Radiation Therapy (the type most people receive) won't make you radioactive. The radiation generated by the treatment machine switches off once the treatment finishes and it doesn't remain in your body so its fine to be around other people while you are having treatment.
Some procedures, such as Brachytherapy treatment, deliver the radiation dose internally using an implanted radioactive source which, while it is in place, will be emitting some radioactivity. This treatment is only used for certain types of cancers, such as cancer of the cervix. If you are having this type of treatment any precautions required will be explained to you in detail.
Please do not apply anything to the treatment area without checking with a member of your Radiation team first. The Radiation Therapist will show you the area that will be treated and you will also receive written information with specific instructions on how to care for your skin.
Treatment areas should be protected from further irritation such as rubbing, friction and pressure. Skin in the treatment area also needs to be protected from excessive sunlight, heat and cold.
You can swim in the sea while on treatment (as long as your skin isn't too sore) but its advisable not to swim in a chlorinated pool. It's fine to swim anywhere once any skin reaction has settled down, which in most cases is a month or so after finishing treatment. If you want to swim outdoors however, remember to protect your skin against the sun.
Many people find that keeping active while having radiation treatment helps to reduce fatigue. Remember though, to listen to your body; if you do feel like you need a rest, then try and make some time to do so.
Read the Cancer Society brochure on 'Being active when you have cancer'.
For most patients as long as you feel fit and able there is no reason why you can't go to work, but remember that the treatment may make you tired. If you have concerns about driving or operating machinery, talk to your oncology doctor.
Radiation therapy treatment may make you lose your hair but only in the area we are treating. For example, if we are treating your chest then it won't affect the hair on your head. Hair loss may be permanent or temporary, it depends on how much dose you are given.
If we expect you to lose the hair from your head, information will be given about how you can get a wig made.
Your oncologist will discuss this with you before you start treatment. If your fertility will be affected the options to preserve fertility will be discussed with you before starting any treatment.
If you are a woman of childbearing age, it is important that you don't become pregnant during your treatment. This is because radiation treatment given during pregnancy could harm a developing baby.
If you think that you may be pregnant at any time during your treatment, please tell your health care team immediately.
Please discuss the need for contraception with your Radiation Oncologist or nurse. Your Radiation Oncologist can also tell you how long you should wait after you have finished treatment before attempting to conceive a child.
Some supplements are OK but others are not. You should tell your Doctor about any supplements you are taking before your radiation therapy begins.
The best way to makes sure you are getting all the vitamins you need is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and if you have any questions about what to eat please let us know: we can, if necessary, refer you to our team of dieticians.
We understand that you may want to do all you can to support yourself when you have a cancer diagnosis and are undergoing treatment. We support people in maintaining their wellness. However it is very important to speak with your Radiation Oncologist about any supplements, over the counter medicines, complementary or alternative medicines or therapies you may be taking or considering starting, for any reason, not just cancer related.
Many drugs we use in traditional medicine are derived from natural sources. Many medicines whether directly from natural sources or not can interact with each other, either positively or negatively.
We base any decision about using these medicines or therapies on the scientific evidence available to us. There are a number of therapies that have been proven beneficial and are safe to undertake while you are receiving treatment. However there are some medicines or therapies that have been proven to interfere with the benefit radiation therapy can offer you. In these cases we would recommend that you don't partake of them while receiving your treatment. We want the best outcome possible for you.
For further information read the Cancer Society booklet on Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Read the information on the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre website
To get to the Oncology centre follow the yellow line on the floor from the Main Entrance Corridor of Christchurch Hospital.
Page last updated: 24 February 2021
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