Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. The treatment is given in the hospital radiotherapy department. The number of treatments you have, and the length of time they take, will depend on the stage of the cancer and the aim of treatment.
Radiotherapy is usually given by aiming high-energy x-rays at the lung from a radiotherapy machine. This is known as external beam radiotherapy. Sometimes a type of internal radiotherapy called endobronchial radiotherapy or brachytherapy is used.
When radiotherapy is used
Radiotherapy can be given with the aim of curing the cancer (radical radiotherapy). This may be used instead of surgery. There are different ways of having radical radiotherapy.
You may have treatment every weekday with a rest at the weekend. The treatment will be given for 3–7 weeks.
Alternatively, radical radiotherapy can be given using more than one treatment – or fraction – each day. This is called hyperfractionation. As more than one treatment is given each day, the length of the course of treatment will usually be shorter than once-daily treatments. One type of hyperfractionated radiotherapy that gives three treatments a day is called Continuous Hyperfractionated Accelerated Radiotherapy (CHART).
This type of treatment is not widely available, and you may have to travel to a different hospital if your doctor thinks this treatment is suitable for you.
Palliative radiotherapy may be used to control symptoms. Fewer treatments are given and they usually have fewer side effects.