Radiation Oncology

What is Radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy uses carefully measured and targeted does of high energy radiation to damage cancer cells and stop them growing and dividing. Radiation Therapy is a local treatment; it affects cancer cells only in the treated area.

Radiotherapy may be used as a sole treatment or alongside other treatments like chemotherapy or surgery.

There are two main kinds of radiotherapy treatment:

  • External treatment: a beam of radiation is aimed at the part of your body where the cancer is found.
  • Internal treatment: also called brachytherapy: a source of radioactive material is placed in your body.

Some patents receive both types of radiation therapy.

External beam radiation therapy is usually given five days a week (Mon-Fri). A course of treatment may range from 1 to 37 treatments. Each treatment is called a fraction.

Radiotherapy may damage normal cells as well as cancer cells; these will usually repair themselves over time. Cancer cells tend not to recover. Possible side effects include skin irritation, however, other side effects are dependent on the area of the body being treated.

The treatment can, however, be very dangerous to unborn children. You should always tell the team treating you if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.

Your treatment

Most radiotherapy takes place on an outpatient basis, so you probably won’t need to be admitted to hospital for treatment.

We plan and tailor your treatment carefully before starting the course of radiotherapy.

  • You will have a CT scan, so that we can target the radiation therapy as precisely as possible.
  • If you are of child bearing age you will be asked about the possibility of pregnancy at CT. You will be asked to rule out the possibility of pregnancy based on a number of criteria.
  • If you are having treatment to the head or neck region you may need a mask, or shell during the treatment. If this is the case, this will be made as part of your CT planning scan appointment.
  • If you are having treatment to the pelvis area you may be asked to drink water and possible use a self-administered enema.
  • A digital photograph of you will be taken to store on your patient record. This is only so that we can confirm your identity before treatment and will not be used for any other purpose.
  • The planning of your treatment may take up to 3 weeks and there is usually a delay between planning appointments and your first treatment appointment.
  • Each treatment takes a few minutes. It does not hurt. The machine does not touch you and it is very much like having an ordinary Xray.

During your treatment you will see your doctors on a regular basis to monitor any side effects and discuss any concerns that you may have.