Radiotherapy can be done in many different ways, depending on your circumstances.
Before treatment starts
Deciding to have treatment
If you’re diagnosed with cancer, you’ll be cared for by a team of specialists.
Your team will recommend radiotherapy if they think it’s the best option for
you, but the final decision is yours.
Making this decision can be difficult. You may find it useful to write a list of
questions to ask your care team.
For example, you may want to ask about:
what the aim of treatment is – for example, is it being used to cure the cancer, relieve your
symptoms or make other treatments more effective?
the possible side effects and what can be done to prevent or relieve them
how effective radiotherapy is likely to be whether any other treatments could be tried instead
If you agree with your team’s recommendation, they’ll start to plan your
treatment once you have given your consent of treatment.
Planning your treatment
Your treatment will be carefully planned to ensure the highest possible dose is delivered to the cancer, while avoiding damage to nearby healthy cells as much as possible.
You will probably have a CT scan to work out exactly where the cancer is and how big it is.
After the scan, some very small but permanent ink marks may be made on your skin to ensure the right area is targeted accurately each time.
If you’re having radiotherapy to your head or neck, a plastic mask will be made for you to wear during treatment. The ink marks will be made on the mask.
Radiotherapy is usually given daily over several weeks.
Before treatment starts, your care team will create a plan that outlines:
The type of radiotherapy you’ll have
How many treatment sessions you’ll need
How often you’ll need treatment
Most people have 5 treatments each week (1 treatment a day from Monday to Friday, with a break at the weekend). But sometimes treatment may be given more than once a day or over the weekend.
Your doctor may call each dose a “fraction”, although the term “attendance” is sometimes used to indicate how many hospital visits you’ll need to make during treatment.
How radiotherapy is given
Radiotherapy can be given as
External radiotherapy – where a machine (Linac) directs beams of radiation at the cancer
A radioactive implant inside your body near the cancer
(so -called brachytherapy treatment performed by our partner institute)
During external radiotherapy, you lie on a table and a machine directs beams of radiation at the cancer.
The machine is operated from outside the room, but you’ll be watched through a window or a camera. There will be an intercom if you need to speak to the person treating you.
You need to keep as still as possible throughout the treatment. It usually only takes a few minutes and is completely painless. You can usually go home soon after it has finished.
Side effects of radiotherapy
As well as killing cancer cells, radiotherapy can damage some healthy cells in the area being treated.
This can cause some side effects, such as:
sore, red skin
hair loss in the area being treated
losing your appetite
a sore mouth
Many of these side effects can be treated or prevented and most will pass after treatment stops.
External radiotherapy does not make you radioactive, as the radiation passes through your body.
The radiation from implants or injections can stay in your body for a few days, so you may need to stay in hospital and avoid close contact with other people for a few days as a precaution.