Browser does not support script.
Skip to main content
Find out how we produce our information|
Radiotherapy| treats cancer by using high-energy x-rays to destroy the cancer cells while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells.
It’s usually given by aiming high-energy x-rays at the lung from a radiotherapy machine. This is known as external beam radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy can be given for different reasons:
Often, only one or two treatments are needed, but occasionally a course of treatment is given over two weeks or so. For single treatments, the planning discussed below isn’t needed.
To make sure that the radiotherapy works as well as possible, it has to be carefully planned. On your first visit to the radiotherapy department you’ll be asked to lie under a large machine called a simulator, which takes x-rays of the area to be treated. Sometimes a CT scanner may be used instead. Your treatment is planned and supervised by a clinical oncologist (a doctor who is a specialist in radiotherapy treatment) and a radiographer (the person who gives you your treatment).
Before each session of radiotherapy, the radiographer will position you carefully on the couch – either sitting or lying – and make sure you’re comfortable. During your treatment, which only takes a few minutes, you’ll be left 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 do have to stay still for a few minutes while your treatment is being given.
Positioning the radiotherapy machine
See a large version of the diagram of positioning the radiotherapy machine|
Radiotherapy can cause general side effects such as feeling sick (nausea), being sick (vomiting)| and tiredness. It can also make you temporarily more breathless|, cause flu-like symptoms for a few days or chest pain.
These side effects can be mild or more troublesome, depending on the strength of the radiotherapy dose and the length of your treatment. Your clinical oncologist and radiographer can advise you what to expect.
Nausea can usually be effectively treated with anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs, which your doctor can prescribe.
As radiotherapy can make you feel tired, try to get as much rest as you can, especially if you have to travel a long way for treatment each day.
These side effects should disappear gradually once your course of treatment is over, but it’s important to let your doctor know if they continue. Radiotherapy does not make you radioactive and it’s perfectly safe for you to be with other people, including children, throughout your treatment.
Our general information on radiotherapy| explains this treatment in more detail.
Content last reviewed: 1 May 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
If you have any questions about Macmillan we would love to hear from you| .
You can also follow us| on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or YouTube.
© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
what are these?|