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Radiotherapy is the use of high energy X-rays used to treat cancer (or sometimes benign disease). It can be delivered as a stand-alone treatment option or before or after surgery, before, during or after chemotherapy and alongside hormone treatment.

Radiotherapy treatment can be given in two different ways - from outside the body (external beam radiotherapy) and from inside the body (internal beam radiotherapy). The information on this page relates to external beam radiotherapy.

Why you might need it

Radiotherapy is often used alongside chemotherapy but can also be recommended as a stand alone cancer treatment. The body is made up of building blocks called cells, and radiotherapy works by damaging the cancer cells.

Although some normal cells will be in the treatment area, most are able to repair and recover from the radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy treatment is given for two main reasons:

- Radical (curative) intent: the aim of the treatment is to cure the cancer.

- Palliative treatment: with the aim of shrinking the tumour and relieving cancer symptoms and pain. Palliative treatment can also help to prolong life.

Whether radiotherapy is suitable for you will depend on the type of cancer you have and how far it has spread, as well as your general health. Your oncologist will discuss all the options with you and devise the most appropriate treatment plan for your needs.

Our latest-generation treatment can include the combination of Image Guided Radiotherapy and Intensity Moduled Radiotherapy. These systems can help to reduce damage to healthy tissue from radiotherapy and optimise treatment effectiveness.

Radiotherapy treatment can be given over a number of days which can help to reduce side-effects. Radiotherapy can also be given as a single treatment or short course. Your oncologist will oversee your treatment and their team will help you deal with any side effects. These vary from person to person but can include:

  • tiredness
  • memory loss
  • a dry mouth or sore throat
  • hair loss in the area being treated
  • feeling depressed or anxious
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • red, sore or itchy skin
  • coughing and shortness of breath
  • stiffness in your joints and muscles
  • darkening of your skin
  • swelling in your limbs
  • shortness of breath (if your chest area was treated)
  • infertility (if your ovaries or testicles are treated)
  • problems going to the toilet or with sex (if your pelvic area was treated).

Who will do it?

Our patients are at the heart of what we do and we want you to be in control of your care.

All of our radiographers are of the highest calibre and benefit from working in our modern, well equipped hospitals.

 

Before your treatment

You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.

We will also discuss with you whether any further diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests, are needed. Any additional costs will be discussed before further tests are carried out.

Preparing for your treatment

We’ve tried to make your experience with us as easy and relaxed as possible. 

For more information on visiting hours, our food, parking and all those other important practicalities, please visit our patient information page.

You may be asked to attend a radiotherapy planning appointment so that an individual treatment plan can be designed specifically for you. In this session, you will have a CT scan in the position that you will be for your radiotherapy treatment and the radiographers performing the scan may want to put some very small permanent skin marks on the area for treatment.

These are only the size of a pin head and aid the positioning and the accuracy of radiotherapy. This CT scan will then be used by your clinical oncologist, dosimetrist and physicist to plan the optimum treatment for you. Your oncologist may also use previous scans and X-rays to help plan the radiotherapy treatment.

If you are having you head or neck area treated you may need a mask made - this helps to stabilise the head during radiotherapy treatment.

 

The procedure

External beam radiotherapy is delivered by therapy radiographers; they will carefully position you using the skin marks as a guide and once you are in the correct position the specialist radiotherapy machine will deliver the high energy X-rays.

It can move around you to different angles and positions to deliver the specific radiotherapy treatment designed for you. Treatment is painless, and whilst the radiographers will leave the room during treatment you will be watched on a camera at all times.

Aftercare

Recovery time

Side effects of the radiotherapy can vary from person to person and are dependent on many factors relating to the type of cancer, the area being treated, the type and number of treatments, other treatments being given alongside the radiotherapy and whether the aim is to cure or manage the cancer.

Radiotherapy side effects normally occur as the treatment progresses and normally for a few weeks after the treatment finishes. They are caused when the normal tissue in the treatment area is damaged, causing inflammation. The therapy radiographers caring for you will help you manage any radiotherapy side effects you experience.

At the Spire Specialist Centre(s) our use of Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) and Image Guided Radiotherapy (IGRT) techniques help to minimise the dose to the surrounding normal tissue in the treatment area, therefore helping to minimise side effects.


How your loved ones can help

Once you’re ready go home after treatment, you’ll need to arrange a taxi, friend or family member to take you home because you may not feel like driving. You should also ask them to help with shopping and cleaning for a few days, in case you’re not feeling up to it.


Looking after you

We’re with you every step of the way through your recovery, even after you’ve left hospital.

After your treatment we will provide you with all the appropriate medication, advice on what you should and shouldn't do, and any other follow-up support you need. Typically your oncologist will want to see you after your full course of treatment to see how you’re cancer is responding. You will also be given contact numbers in case you have any concerns about your treatment - If you or your family have any questions at please don't be afraid to speak to a member of the team.

We will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this procedure and how they apply to you.

If you have any questions or concerns, we’re ready to help.

How much does it cost?

A fixed price for this treatment may be available on enquiry and following an initial consultation.

We are committed to delivering excellent individual care and customer service across our network of hospitals, clinics and specialist care centres around the UK. Our dedicated and highly trained team aim to achieve consistently excellent results. For us it's more than just treating patients, it's about looking after people.

Important to note

The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.