Radiotherapy accurately shaped to the target area
Volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT) is an advanced radiotherapy technique that uses arcs of radiation, rather than individual beams used in other types of radiotherapy. As the machine (called a linear accelerator or linac) moves, it automatically changes the beam shape and treatment dose. This makes the treatment much more targeted and accurate than single beam-based radiotherapy.
At GenesisCare, we provide VMAT radiotherapy as standard for a wide range of cancer types at each of our centres.
Your consultant will assess your condition and precise diagnosis to decide if this treatment is right for you. Our multidisciplinary team of specialists, including oncologists, radiographers and physicists, will then plan and manage your treatment. While in our care, you’ll have the support of our compassionate nursing staff, who are on call to answer any of your queries.
What is VMAT radiotherapy?
VMAT provides very accurate radiation delivery and maximises the dose targeted at the tumour while minimising the overall dose to surrounding healthy tissue. This greatly reduces the risk of side effects that are usually seen with conventional radiotherapy. Compared to conventional radiotherapy, treatment sessions with VMAT are much shorter and can last between just two to four minutes.
VMAT can treat tumours such as breast, prostate and skin, which are close to critical organs because it helps protect them from radiation damage.
All our centres also offer surface-guided radiotherapy (SGRT). SGRT uses 3D camera technology which enables us to accurately monitor and track your position during treatment to make sure the radiation is precisely targeted. It’s highly accurate, meaning if you move out of position, we can pause the treatment. When combined with VMAT, SGRT helps improve the overall accuracy and the speed and comfort of treatment.
SGRT is not widely available elsewhere in the UK. Find out more about surface-guided radiotherapy here.
What happens during VMAT radiotherapy?
Here is an outline of what to expect after your initial consultation and before, during and after your VMAT radiotherapy. This information is about VMAT radiotherapy for internal tumours, such as breast or prostate cancer. You can find out more information about VMAT for skin cancer here.
Before your first appointment, your care team will call you to explain any preparation instructions in advance of your appointments and answer any questions.
Ahead of VMAT radiotherapy, you’ll need a CT scan. This helps the team accurately plan your treatment. These scans help us determine the exact size, shape and position of your tumour. We use this information to calculate the optimum radiation dose and accurately direct the radiation beam during your procedure.
Your planning appointment shouldn’t take longer than a couple of hours and you’ll be able to go home afterwards. In some cases, your appointment may also include an MRI scan.
Before your treatment begins, your care team will explain what will happen. When you’re ready, your radiographer will help you get onto the treatment bed and correctly position you using our surface guidance software and your planning CT scan.
Once you’re set up, your radiographer will leave the room. You can speak to them through the intercom system and listen to music throughout your treatment.
Before your treatment starts, a “Cone Beam” CT scan will be taken on the radiotherapy machine (Linear accelerator ), so your radiographers can ensure you’re in the right position and the radiotherapy is targeting the exact position mapped by your consultant.
Your treatment appointment should last between 20 and 60 minutes. You’ll see the linac moving around you, but it won’t touch you, and you won’t feel anything from the treatment.
When the treatment has finished, your radiographer will come back into the room and help you off the treatment bed. You’ll be able to go straight home. We’ll give you the contact details for your care team so you can call if you have any further questions.
After your treatment course has finished, you’ll have regular follow-up appointments with your care team.
Seven to ten days later, a member of your care team will call to see how you’re feeling and answer any questions you may have.
Four to six weeks later, you’ll have a review with your GenesisCare consultant to discuss your side effects and response to the treatment.
VMAT radiotherapy for advanced disease
VMAT is also ideally suited to treat advanced cancers by helping to slow their growth and spread and relieve symptoms, such as pain.
Unlike many other providers, we’re able to offer you access to advanced radiotherapy treatments straightaway. Our approach to care enables us to plan your VMAT treatment in hours and start within days.
VMAT for skin cancerisation
We’re the first provider in the UK to offer VMAT radiotherapy as an alternative treatment option for patients with extensive skin field cancerisation – a condition where there are areas of pre-cancerous skin tissue containing abnormal cells.
This modern therapy is exclusively available at our GenesisCare Centre for Radiotherapy at Cromwell Hospital in London and can be used to safely treat the skin surface without treating the underlying healthy tissue.
Find out more about VMAT radiotherapy for extensive skin field cancerisation.
Side effects of VMAT
All treatments carry the risk of some side effects. However, you can expect fewer side effects with VMAT radiotherapy than conventional radiotherapy because its greater accuracy means that the risk of damage to healthy tissues is lower.
During your treatment, your care team will be available to provide more advice about side effects and inform you of the best ways to deal with them. It’s also important that you attend your follow-up appointments, so we can identify and treat any problems as soon as possible.
The side effects you may experience will depend on the location of your cancer. Below we’ve listed some general short-term side effects of VMAT radiotherapy, but your doctor will explain any others that are specific to the location of your cancer.
- Skin irritation and hair loss in the treatment area
- Soreness and swelling in the treatment area
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling tired and fatigued
Although side effects can occasionally be severe, they’re usually very mild and typically resolve within three to four weeks.
Frequently asked questions
VMAT doesn’t make you radioactive. It’s perfectly safe for you to be with other people, including children and pregnant women, throughout your treatment.
Unless your doctor has recommended otherwise, we advise that you eat a normal, healthy, balanced diet during your treatment and drink more fluids than usual to keep you hydrated.
Wherever possible, wear loose-fitting clothing made of natural fibres such as cotton or silk over the treatment area. This will help to reduce irritation.
In some cases, it’s fine to swim in the sea or a swimming pool during your treatment. You just need to rinse the treated area carefully after swimming to remove any chlorine or salt and moisturise appropriately. We strongly advise you not to swim if your skin becomes red or sore, or if your radiographers tell you that you’re at high risk of developing a skin reaction.
You may find that your skin appears a slightly different colour after treatment. This usually fades with time. Our radiographers will be able to provide skin creams to use during your treatment to help with this.
If you’re currently in work, you should be able to continue working throughout your radiotherapy. Although each treatment takes place Monday to Friday, the appointments are short, and we work efficiently to minimise waiting times. You can ask your care team for a convenient appointment time, and we’ll do our best to accommodate you.
People experience side effects in different ways, so if you feel unwell or fatigued, you should speak to your employer about making changes to help. It’s reasonable to take time off work for cancer treatment if needed. Your care team can give you advice too.
Most people receiving VMAT can continue driving throughout their treatment. However, you should be aware that radiotherapy can make you tired, so it’s not advisable to drive if you’re feeling fatigued. If you are unable to drive, you should arrange for someone to take you to and from your appointments or use public transport. Alternatively, when required, we’ll help our patients with transport depending on treatment and locations – please enquire for more details.
Your consultant can give you more advice about driving.
If you have a pacemaker, we’ll need to know some details about this before the CT planning scan. We’ll ask your cardiology team for more information about what type of pacemaker you have and the results of the last test carried out on it.