Radiotherapy for melanoma that has come back in the same area
Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells.
Radiotherapy is occasionally used to treat recurrent melanomas that can’t be removed with surgery or aren’t suitable for other treatments. It may help to shrink large recurrences that are causing discomfort or pain. Your specialist will tell you if radiotherapy is suitable for you.
Find out about how external beam radiotherapy is given.
How radiotherapy is given
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The treatment is normally done in the hospital radiotherapy department as a series of short daily treatments. Each treatment takes about 10–15 minutes. They are usually given Monday–Friday, with a rest at the weekends. Your doctor will discuss the length of the treatment and possible side effects with you.
External radiotherapy doesn’t make you radioactive. It’s perfectly safe for you to be with other people, including children, after your treatment.
Planning your radiotherapy
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Radiotherapy has to be carefully planned to make sure it’s as effective as possible. It’s planned by a cancer specialist (clinical oncologist) and it may take a few visits. On your first visit to the radiotherapy department, you’ll be asked to have a CT scan or lie under a machine called a simulator, which takes x-rays of the area to be treated. Watch our video about having a CT scan.
You may need some small marks made on your skin. These help the radiographer (who gives you your treatment) position you accurately, and show where the rays will be directed. The marks must stay visible throughout your treatment, and permanent marks (like tiny tattoos) are usually used. These are extremely small, and will only be done with your permission. It may be a little uncomfortable while they are done.
At the beginning of each session of radiotherapy, the radiographer will position you carefully on the couch and make sure you are comfortable. During your treatment, you’ll be alone in the room, but you can talk to the radiographer who will watch you from the next room. Radiotherapy is not painful, but you will have to lie still for a few minutes during the treatment. The illustration below shows someone being positioned for radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy will make you feel tired. This can sometimes last for some weeks or even months after your treatment finishes. It can also cause a skin reaction (like sunburn) in the area being treated. The radiographers will advise you on how to look after your skin.
Other side effects depend on the area being treated. Your nurse or radiographer will discuss these with you so that you know what to expect. Tell them about any side effects you have, as there are often things that can help.
Most of the side effects of radiotherapy are temporary and will gradually go away when your treatment is over.