Peter Mac News

What does a Radiation Therapist do?

10 November 2023

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Zapping cancer cells is only a small part of being a Radiation Therapist – most of the time is spent caring for patients and mapping out the intricate, incredibly precise treatments.

The minutes patients spend on a linear accelerator machine during their treatment session have been meticulously planned for many hours, possibly days for more complicated cases, by a dedicated team of radiation therapists spanning five Peter Mac sites. 

For National Radiographers and Radiation Therapists Week, we sat down with Charge Radiation Therapist Andrea Paneghel from Peter Mac’s Sunshine campus to find out what it’s like to work as a radiation therapist.  

Thanks for joining us, Andrea. Tell us about your role at Peter Mac.

I’m a Charge Radiation Therapist and I’ve been with Peter Mac for 33 years. I started in 1991 and I’ve only worked at Peter Mac.

I’m part of a team who plan and deliver all different types of radiation therapy to thousands of patients each year.

Briefly, how does radiation therapy treatment work and what do you do?

Radiation therapy is used reduce cancer cells in the body using a very precise beam of radiation using a machine called a linear accelerator. We may be able completely get rid of the cancer altogether, or with more advanced disease we can use the treatment to reduce the cancer to improve quality of life for the patient. 

First, patients are sent for detailed scans of their tumour site before the radiation oncologist – a doctor who plans radiation therapy – decides on a course of treatment.

The radiation therapy team then map out individualised treatment for every patient, using our computer planning system to put together a safe and deliverable plan that focuses on the area that we need to treat while avoiding healthy cells.

We may also need to make a special mask for the patient if they are being treated for brain, head, neck or chest cancer to keep them still during treatment. 

All this planning can range from a couple of hours to a few days for a complex case. I’m a senior RT so I do the checks on the plans to ensure they meet all of our treatment goals.

Once approved the plan tells the machine which positions to be in and the dose of radiation required.  

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What do you like most about being a radiation therapist?

One of the things I love most is building rapport with the patient. We get to really know our patients and they get to know us and we build really strong relationships. We’re here to support them through what can be a long course of treatment of five sessions a week for 6-8 weeks.

It’s important that we empower them to play a central role in their treatment and care and to really listen to their needs. Every patient has their own unique needs and circumstances and they all form part of the care that we provide. 

Why did you decide to become a Radiation Therapist?

When I was in high-school I knew I wanted to work with people, and I knew I wanted to work in health in some capacity. I’d studied physics in year 12 and I decided I wanted to use it, and radiation therapy is all about physics. 

Most of all though I wanted to work with people and make a difference to their health and their lives – and I’m so glad I chose radiation therapy because I’ve loved it ever since day one. 

What is the best thing about working at Peter Mac?

It has to be the people. I’ve always been fully supported, and I work with an incredible bunch of really dedicated people. All of us at Peter Mac work as a team to deliver the very best care to our patients. 

What would you say to someone considering a career in radiation therapy?

I would say it’s incredibly rewarding to know that you’re playing a role in helping people at the most difficult time in their lives, and in most cases improving their lives. 

Even after 33 years I’m still excited about my job and find it rewarding every day. 

Find out more about radiation therapy at Peter Mac