What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is the use of X-ray beams to treat cancer. X-ray beams are also used to take X-ray images. In radiotherapy a similar beam is used but it is focused on a very small area of the body.


What is it used for?

Radiotherapy is used to treat cancer. Depending on the type of cancer it is used by itself or in combination with chemotherapy or surgery.

Radiotherapy can also be used to treat pain coming from bone if this is affected by cancer.


How does it work?

The X-ray beams are narrow beams of high energy which destroys cancer cells which they are focused on.


How is it delivered?

Radiotherapy is given at the Sussex Cancer centre which is also located at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. Usually several doses are required. Before the first dose is given you will have a planning session. Sometimes a mark with a pen or small tattoo is required to mark the areas where the X-ray beams will be focused. This will be explained to you by the staff. When the radiotherapy is given you will have to lie still whilst the beams are given. Nothing comes into contact with your body and it does not take a large amount of time. But often several doses are needed.


What are the most important side effects?

There are side effects from radiotherapy as with any treatment, but on the whole patients suffer fewer side effects when compared to chemotherapy.


There are some general side effects that patients may notice such as feeling tired and skin irritation. Skin can become red and sore after radiotherapy this can be managed by using moisturiser and other methods which the staff will discuss with you. It is advised to avoid sunlight exposure to areas that have undergone radiotherapy as the skin will remain sensitive to sunlight.


Other side effects depend on which part of the body the X-ray beams are focused on. For example if they are focused near the stomach or bowel then patients may feel nauseated and may suffer with diarrhoea.


The main long term effect of radiotherapy is due to scarring from healthy cells which are affected by the X-ray beams. It is impossible to only focus the X-ray beams on cancerous cells and some normal cells are damaged. The bowel and bladder can be affected by this process, It is important to mention to doctors if you have had radiotherapy in the past.



Further information

Radiotherapy at Macmillian cancer support



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Written by: Dr T Rider

Editor: Dr J Newman

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