Technologists create radiotherapy masks for children

7th December 2021 12:00

7th December 2021

Two creative clinical technologists, who work in the Mould Room at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, are helping children and young patients to combat their fear of radiotherapy treatment by transforming them into their favourite superhero or character, thanks to funding from Beatson Cancer Charity. 

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s Fiona McCulloch and Hilary Sturrock have been using water-based acrylic paint, donated by the charity, to revamp plain radiotherapy masks into something more child-friendly, to help younger radiotherapy patients feel more comfortable during treatment. 

During radiotherapy to the brain, head or neck, a made-to-measure radiotherapy mask is worn by patients to help keep their head still. The patient is asked to lie on the treatment table and the mask is gently placed over their head and neck and fixed to the table, which can be a frightening experience. For cancerous tumours that occur on other parts of the body, for example arms and legs, devices are developed using the same method as the masks. These allow radiographers to target the correct area for treatment of the tumour. 

Both former art students, who attended the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, Fiona and Hilary work with the patients to create their masterpiece on a blank canvas. The mask and straps will then be stored at the hospital for when they undergo their treatment. 

Fiona said: “Radiotherapy treatment wearing one of these masks can understandably be a very frightening experience for children, and can often feel claustrophobic. 

“It’s fantastic to see the positive impact the designs are having, and it’s such a pleasure working with patients and creating their ideas and designs.” 

Radiographers at the BWOSCC are hoping that over time, this initiative will see a decreased use of anaesthetic, which is sometimes required to calm patients and limit movement. 

Hilary said: “I feel grateful to have the opportunity to put my previous study toward such a worthwhile and positive experience for these young patients. 

“Although some design requests can start off as a challenge to envision, we have had such great feedback. The radiographers treating these patients have commented on the positive impact a personalised mask or device makes to the child’s experience.” 

Five-year-old Lara, said: “My mask is helping me a lot. It squashes me tight and I love the painting and jewels on it. I love that it is a fairy princess and has my name on it, which is my favourite bit. My mask is lovely and googly, and I like that it squashes me tight like mummy cuddling me.” 

Molly, aged 12, said: “Although Radiotherapy is painless, the machine is huge and being strapped down and told to stay completely still is quite scary. 

“Having my arm device hand painted in a vibrant colourful design created especially for me, added a personal touch and made the treatment feel less clinical. My strap is a lovely, a personal souvenir of my time spent in Glasgow.” 

The clinical technologists have so far recreated Batman, Pikachu, a tiger, the Hulk and a butterfly. 

Lorraine Whyte, NHS practice education radiographer and Beatson Cancer Charity funded post, said: “This is a really special initiative the BWOSCC are carrying out, and the artwork is so impressive. It’s helping make a big difference to our younger patients’ confidence when they undergo their treatment. 

“And thanks to Beatson Cancer Charity’s generous funding of specialist paints, we hope to continue helping more patients get through their treatment.” 

Graham Soutar, Beatson Cancer Charity’s chief executive, said: “Beatson Cancer Charity is delighted to be able to fund innovative projects like this, which go on to make a real difference to the treatment and wellbeing of patients.”