Questions about radiotherapy?
If you have any questions about radiotherapy speak to your doctor or nurse. You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.
Radiotherapy uses radiation to destroy cancer cells.
A machine called a linear accelerator is usually used to deliver radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer. This directs beams of radiation at the cancer from outside the body, destroying the cancer cells.
If you have pancreatic cancer, you may have radiotherapy on its own, or together with chemotherapy. This is called chemoradiotherapy.
Radiotherapy is used in different ways, depending on your diagnosis. It may be used after, and occasionally before, surgery to remove the cancer.
You will normally have a planning session before your radiotherapy starts, so that the radiotherapy team can make a treatment plan for you. You will have a scan, and the radiographers will make tiny permanent dots (tattoos) on your skin. They will use these dots to get you into exactly the right position for each treatment session.
You will usually go to the hospital Monday to Friday for your radiotherapy. Treatment normally lasts three to six weeks, although this varies. The treatment session may take up to 30 minutes each time.
The radiographers will position you on the radiotherapy table (often called a couch). The radiotherapy machine will move around you during treatment, but won’t touch you.
You will usually have scans or X-rays taken while you are having radiotherapy to check that you are in the right position during treatment. You can go home as soon as each treatment session has finished.
If you are having chemoradiotherapy, you will usually have chemotherapy on its own for 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 and chemotherapy every day from Monday to Friday, for five to six weeks.
The chemotherapy drug most often used with radiotherapy is capecitabine, which is taken as a tablet.
Radiotherapy and chemoradiotherapy can cause some short and longer-term side effects but these are often mild. Side effects include:
If you have chemoradiotherapy, you may also get side effects from the chemotherapy.
Your medical team will carefully plan your treatment to reduce the risk of any side effects, and there are ways to manage side effects.
You might want to write down any questions you have for your doctor to take with you so you don’t forget to ask them. You may also want to take someone with you when you see your doctor so they can write down the answers and any important information.
Published September 2019
To be reviewed September 2021
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We would like to thank the following people who reviewed our information on radiotherapy.