The information in this part of the website has been written to help you understand more about radiotherapy treatment. Based on one of our patient information booklets, it contains general information about radiotherapy and what you can expect during treatment.
If your doctor recommends radiotherapy for you they will explain why and what your treatment will involve. If you have any questions or want more information, please ask. It can often be difficult to know what to ask or to remember your questions, so you might want to think about and write them down in advance or see this list of suggested questions.
What is radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy is a treatment for cancer using high -energy radiation, usually X-rays. The type and amount of radiation that you receive is carefully calculated to damage the cancer cells, which are abnormal cells. This stops the cells from dividing properly and as a result they are destroyed. Your treatment is planned to avoid as much healthy tissue as possible. However some healthy tissue is affected which causes side effects.
Find out more about the different types of radiotherapy.
What are the benefits of radiotherapy?
The purpose of radiotherapy is to destroy cancer cells while causing as little damage as possible to normal cells. It can be used to treat many kinds of cancer in almost any part of the body.
Curative treatment, which is sometimes called radical treatment, aims to give long-term benefits to people. Sometimes radiotherapy is given on its own or it may be given alongside other treatment. Radiotherapy may be given before surgery to shrink a tumour or after surgery to stop the growth of cancer cells that may remain. It can also be given before, during or after chemotherapy or hormone treatment to improve overall results.
Palliative treatment aims to shrink tumours and reduce pain or relieve other cancer symptoms. Palliative radiotherapy may also prolong life.
What are the risks of radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy can damage or destroy normal cells as well as destroying cancer cells and cause treatment side effects. Most side effects are temporary.
Your doctor will not advise you to have any treatment unless the benefits – control of disease and relief from symptoms – are greater than the known risks.
Any side effects which occur during treatment are usually temporary. There may be a small risk of long-term, or late, permanent effects from radiotherapy. However, side effects are rarely severe. Your doctor will tell you about your treatment, how it may affect you and any possible late effects. You may be given additional written information.
If you have any questions or concerns, please ask your doctor. See a list of suggested questions.
You should not become pregnant before or during radiotherapy because radiotherapy may injure the foetus, especially in the first three months of a pregnancy. Please discuss with your doctor if you think you may be pregnant. Your doctor will also be able to advise you on how long you should wait after radiotherapy before becoming pregnant.
Some doctors advise men against fathering a child during radiotherapy and for a few months afterwards. Again, your doctor will be able to discuss this with you.