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Fran Tod shares the importance of tailored bras during radiotherapy

As part of our commitment to making patient experience the best it can be as well as making our services accessible for everyone, back in 2022 we granted a fund to Weston Park Hospital’s radiotherapy department to purchase gift cards to help buy brand new bras for those that need them during and after treatment.

Former Therapeutic Radiographer and breast radiotherapy specialist Fran Tod, who now works as a Cancer Information and Support Advisor at the charity, has shared her specialist insights into the importance of ensuring some breast cancer patients wear a well-fitted and tailored bra during and after treatment.

Fran says: “Radiotherapy is a very common treatment for breast cancer following breast-conserving surgery, with around 63 per cent of patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer receiving radiotherapy treatment at some point.

“Due to the high dose of radiation that is used to damage and kill the cancer cells, it is extremely important that the breast tissue is targeted accurately in order to limit any damage to surrounding healthy tissues.

“Because of the anatomy of breast tissue, it is often difficult to ensure that it is in a stable and reproducible treatment each time the patient has radiotherapy.

“Every patient is shaped differently, and therefore, often, the breast tissue needs to be supported in a position that the radiographers can replicate each day. This means that some patients need to wear a bra during treatment.”

It is not always a simple process to find a bra that is suitable in terms of offering the correct amount of support, while also being suitable during radiotherapy.

Fran says: “The bras must not be wired or padded, they must be adjustable but with plenty of structure and they even need to be a certain material and colour in order to allow the radiographers to mark the bras with treatment reference points.

“This can be quite a complex process to find a bra that is suitable and can often lead to treatment delays if the patient does not already own a bra that fits the criteria and they are happy to be marked, adjusted and even cut if necessary to achieve full immobilisation.

“As well as this, buying a new bra specifically for cancer treatment can end up being quite pricey for the patient. The cost and risk of delays can end up putting the patient at a significant disadvantage compared to those who do not need a bra.

Fran thanks the charity for their grant they gave to the hospital to ensure patients were able to get the bras they needed.

She says: “Without the help of the charity, many of our patients may have had delayed treatments because they didn’t have the correct bra suitable for radiotherapy.

“It also means that the experience for the patients was more dignified and quicker as patients spent less time on the treatment bed having to be manipulated into a less dignified position.”

Patients are ‘triaged’ in clinic prior to going for their radiotherapy planning scan to see if they will need a bra for treatment or not.

Fran continues: “If patients do need a bra and do not already own a suitable one which they are happy to be cut and marked on then they are given a voucher to partially fund the bra they will need for treatment. “They are given the voucher, along with an information sheet signposting them to both our services here at the centre.

“Patients are also given a recommendation for a bra that has been found to be extremely suitable for radiotherapy treatment for other patients. This bra costs £37, and for many people this can be quite a lot of money to pay for 5-15 days of treatment.

“In the first 6 months of 2023, 23 patients in radiotherapy have had to have a bra for treatment, and 12 of them have been given a voucher to partially fund the bra.

“This means that just over 50 per cent of patients in this group have benefitted from the funding, and hopefully with further funding, we will be able to close that gap and help a bigger percentage of patients.

Fran describes the huge impact for patients thanks to the grant.

She says: “As well as the grant having a direct impact on the service users in radiotherapy, it meant that the workflow of the Radiotherapy department has been made easier.

“It has meant that there were less appointment slots taken up for rescans and the radiographers were able to spend less time struggling to get the patient into the correct position. This meant that overall, less delays were seen as a result of setup issues.”

For more information on your options please contact our cancer support team on 0114 553 3330 (option 1).

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