What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. It’s usually given as a series of short, daily treatments in the radiotherapy department, using equipment similar to a large x-ray machine.

For advanced melanoma, radiotherapy is often used to help reduce pain and improve other symptoms. You may need only a few sessions, or a short course of treatment. This type of radiotherapy is called palliative radiotherapy, because it’s given to ease symptoms.

Radiotherapy can be used to help improve symptoms when melanoma has spread to different parts of the body:

  • The skin or lymph nodes distant from the original melanoma – Radiotherapy can help reduce the size of skin nodules or lymph nodes and improve symptoms, such as pain.
  • The bones – Radiotherapy is the most common treatment for secondary bone cancer. It helps to reduce bone pain and swelling.
  • The brain – Radiotherapy can help shrink a secondary cancer in the brain and improve symptoms. Your doctors might suggest using a newer radiotherapy technique called stereotactic radiotherapy (SRT) depending on the size and location of the brain tumour.

The treatment is normally given in the hospital radiotherapy department as a series of short daily sessions Monday–Friday, with a rest at the weekend. Each treatment takes 10–15 minutes. Your doctor will discuss your treatment plan and the possible side effects with you.

Radiotherapy does not make you radioactive and it’s perfectly safe for you to be with other people, including children, after your treatment.

Side effects

Radiotherapy will make you feel tired, and this can last for some weeks after your treatment finishes. Other side effects will depend on the part of your body being treated and how much radiotherapy you’re having. Usually with radiotherapy that’s given to improve symptoms, the side effects are milder. This is especially true if you’re only having one or two treatments.

We have more information about radiotherapy for secondary bone cancer.

Back to Radiotherapy explained

Possible side effects

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

Who might I meet?

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