Radiotherapy for secondary bone cancer

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to treat cancer. It works by destroying cancer cells in the area that’s treated.

Normal cells can also be damaged by radiotherapy. But they can usually repair themselves, while cancer cells can’t.

Radiotherapy is often used to treat secondary bone cancer. It can help relieve symptoms such as pain.

You may have:

  • External beam radiotherapy. This aims high-energy x-rays at the affected bone from a radiotherapy machine.
  • Radioisotope therapy (or radionuclide therapy), where you have a radioactive liquid either as an injection into a vein or as a capsule by mouth.

External beam radiotherapy

You may have radiotherapy for secondary bone cancer as:

  • a single treatment session
  • a number of treatment sessions, which are given daily.

Your doctor will discuss your treatment with you beforehand and answer any questions you have.

You will normally have radiotherapy to the area of the bone affected by the cancer. It usually takes 7 to 10 days for radiotherapy to start reducing bone pain, and it may take up to six weeks before you feel the full effect. You may notice that any pain you have becomes slightly worse before getting better.

During this time, it’s important to continue taking the painkillers prescribed by your doctor. As your pain improves, you may be able to reduce the amount of painkillers. But it’s important to talk to your doctor or nurse before adjusting the dose.

External radiotherapy does not make you radioactive. It’s perfectly safe to be with other people after treatment, including children.

Radiotherapy explained

Consultant Clinical Oncologist Vincent Khoo describes external beam radiotherapy, how it works, and what it involves.

Information about our videos

Radiotherapy explained

Consultant Clinical Oncologist Vincent Khoo describes external beam radiotherapy, how it works, and what it involves.

Information about our videos


Side effects of external beam radiotherapy

This type of radiotherapy usually causes very few side effects. However, treatment to bones in certain areas of the body, such as the ribs or the spine, may make you feel sick for a couple of days after the treatment. Radiotherapy treatment to your pelvis may cause diarrhoea. These side effects can usually be prevented by taking anti-sickness (anti-emetic) or anti-diarrhoea medicines.

Before your treatment starts, your doctor, nurse or radiographer (who gives the radiotherapy) will discuss with you any likely side effects. They’ll also arrange for you to have any drugs you may need to manage these side effects.

We have a video of an oncologist explaining how external radiotherapy works and showing the machine that you might find helpful.

Back to Radiotherapy explained

Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR)

Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) is a treatment that uses scans and specialist equipment to precisely target certain cancers. It is usually only suitable for smaller cancers.

Who might I meet?

You will meet many different specialists before, during and after radiotherapy treatment.

Possible side effects

There are things you can do to help manage the possible side effects of radiotherapy treatment.