What is radiotherapy or radiation therapy?
Radiotherapy treatment is used to treat cancer directly and reduce the chance of cancer coming back after surgery. It works by using X-rays to destroy cancer cells in the treated area, and may also be used to reduce cancer symptoms. Many people will have radiotherapy as part of their cancer treatment. Radiotherapy can entail a daily course of treatments for anything up to six weeks.
There are two types of radiotherapy – external beam radiotherapy and internal radiotherapy. This page describes external beam radiotherapy.
What is involved in having private radiotherapy?
Having radiotherapy is similar to having a full body X-ray. You will usually be required to lie or sit in a fixed position within the treatment room and stay very still as the treatment takes place. The radiotherapy machine beams X-ray radiation at specific areas of your body to kill the cancer cells there.
If radiotherapy is part of your treatment plan, several Spire hospitals have access to the very latest radiotherapy techniques through our partnership with CancerPartnersUK. These facilities offer the very latest generation radiotherapy treatment, Image Guided Radiotherapy (IGRT) and Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT). Combining IMRT and IGRT radiotherapy has been shown to optimize the effects of radiotherapy by targeting the the tumour much more precisely and reducing damage to surrounding normal tissue. This system of radiation therapy is recognized as the very latest treatment of its type anywhere in the world for a wide range of cancers.
The expert radiotherapists and clinicians are all highly experienced in cancer care and each of our facilities are managed by a senior radiotherapist. The team will guide you through your treatment programme, answering questions and providing expert medical advice and consultation about all aspects of your cancer radiotherapy.
If your local Spire hospital does not have an onsite radiotherapy service your oncologist will make arrangements for your treatment at a nearby radiotherapy unit. You will still be under the care of your consultant who is part of a multidisciplinary team that meets regularly to discuss your case. In this way we ensure you receive continuity of care at the same high levels throughout your treatment.
The amount of radiotherapy needed varies from patient to patient. You may only have to visit the hospital once, or you may need to have treatment daily for a number of days or weeks. Your consultant will discuss this with you in full so you know what to expect. If you are having radiotherapy treatment at a Spire hospital, you will also have the opportunity to talk about your treatment and any side effects with the nursing team before your first session of radiotherapy.
It is important that you feel supported and reassured throughout the process, so your nurses will give you a contact number for you to use any time of the day or night if you need support or advice.
What are the side effects with radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy aims to destroy cancerous cells, but it can also affect normal cells that are close to the area being treated. This can result in mild side effects for some people and more severe ones for others. It is difficult to know how you will react, but most people feel tired during their treatment period, especially if it is over a number of weeks. Some people get sore skin, or lose their hair in the area being treated. This should grow back a few weeks after treatment is complete and other parts of the body are not affected. You may also have flu-like symptoms in the days after having radiotherapy.
Your consultant will discuss the possible side effects associated with your treatment before you start radiotherapy. Your oncology team will help you to prepare for them and support you through any problems.