How will I have radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy treatment will vary depending on your situation. It’s likely that you will have radiotherapy at your local hospital or nearest specialist cancer centre – speak to your doctors about your treatment. You will go to the hospital for each treatment but you won’t need to stay overnight. Each treatment session is called a fraction.
- You will usually have radiotherapy every day, Monday to Friday. Most treatment courses last five to six weeks (25-30 fractions).
- If you’re having palliative radiotherapy, you will usually have fewer treatment sessions. The overall dose is usually lower which reduces the risk of side effects.
How will I have chemoradiotherapy?
Chemoradiotherapy is now available in many UK centres. You will usually have chemotherapy on its own for about three to six months to begin with. You will then have a CT scan. If this shows that the cancer has not grown, you will have radiotherapy every day from Monday to Friday, for five to six weeks. You will also have a chemotherapy drug alongside this – this is usually capecitabine (Xeloda®), although you may have another drug.
Ask your oncologist if chemoradiotherapy is a suitable treatment for you, if it’s available in your specialist centre, or if you could join a clinical trial looking into chemoradiotherapy.
Speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line if you have any questions about radiotherapy, chemoradiotherapy, or your treatment options.
What happens during treatment?
Your team may include these health professionals who will plan and deliver your treatment.
- A radiologist is a doctor who is specially trained to interpret diagnostic images such as X-rays, MRI and CT scans.
- Clinical oncologists are doctors who use radiotherapy and chemotherapy to treat and manage cancer. They will oversee your treatment plan.
- A radiographer is trained to take your X-ray, scans and to give radiotherapy treatment.
- Dosimetrists are involved in creating a personal radiotherapy plan, which will make sure the cancer receives the maximum dose of radiotherapy, whilst keeping your normal tissues safe.
- A medical physicist is a healthcare scientist who helps to work out the doses of radiotherapy you will receive and who will check all aspects of your treatment plan.
They will work together to make sure the radiotherapy is delivered as precisely as possible to the cancer cells, while avoiding the normal cells.
Before your radiotherapy starts, you will have normally have a planning session, which can take up to two hours.
You will have a CT scan, and the radiographers will make tiny permanent dots (tattoos) on your skin. The radiographer will use the dots to help them get you into exactly the right position for each treatment session. This helps the radiographers position you accurately for the radiotherapy.
You may be asked not to eat for two hours before your planning session and you might be given some water to drink.
If you were asked not to eat, or you were given some water to drink before your planning session, then you’ll normally have to do this before each treatment session too. The radiographers will position you on the couch and will move the machine around you to different angles to check the measurements. You should try to relax and lie as still as you can.
The radiographers will leave the room but will watch you using cameras. You might feel the couch move as the radiographers adjust its position from outside the room. The machine will move around you to deliver the treatment and will come close to you but will not touch you.
The whole process will take about 15-30 minutes. The treatment itself isn’t painful, is very quick and only takes a few minutes.
You can go home as soon as each treatment session is finished. After the treatment, it’s perfectly safe to be around other people, including pregnant women and children.
Radiotherapy and chemoradiotherapy can be tiring, so it might be useful to ask a friend or relative to drive you to hospital, especially towards the end of treatment.
You may be able to get financial help towards parking or hospital travel costs – ask your medical team.
Published July 2017
To be reviewed July 2019