What is radiotheraphy?

Radiotherapy treats cancer with high-energy x-rays that destroy cancer cells. It’s occasionally used to treat recurrent melanomas that can’t be removed with surgery. It may help to shrink large recurrences that are causing pain.

You will be treated in the radiotherapy department at the hospital. Your treatment will be carefully planned before it starts.

The radiographer may make some small marks on your skin that are like tiny tattoos. These help to position you accurately and make sure that the rays are directed to the right place.

Before treatment starts, you will be positioned carefully on a couch. Once you are comfortable, you will be alone in the room. The treatment is not painful and each session lasts 10–15 minutes.

Radiotherapy will make you feel tired and you may have a skin reaction (like sunburn) in the area being treated. Your nurse or radiographer will discuss any likely side effects with you. Tell your nurse if you have any side effects during your treatment, as there are things they can do to help.

Radiotherapy for recurrent melanoma

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.

External radiotherapy doesn’t make you radioactive. It’s perfectly safe for you to be with other people, including children, after your treatment.

How radiotherapy is given

The treatment is normally done in the hospital radiotherapy department as a series of short daily sessions. 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.

Planning radiotherapy

Radiotherapy has to be carefully planned to make sure that 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.

You may need some small marks drawn 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.

Treatment sessions

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.

Side effects

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.

We have more information on radiotherapy.

Back to Radiotherapy explained

Possible side effects

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

How should I prepare for radiotherapy?

Prepare for your radiotherapy by finding out what treatment involves and how it may affect your everyday routine.

Planning your treatment

Radiographers will work with you to plan your radiotherapy treatment.

Who might I meet?

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