What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using x-rays to destroy the cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells.

It works well for skin cancers and is particularly useful in areas where surgery might be difficult or disfiguring (such as the face), and for tumours that have penetrated deeply into the skin. However, it’s not recommended for young people as it can cause skin changes, which become more visible over the years.

The treatment is given in the hospital radiotherapy department. You may have only a single treatment, but usually several doses are needed. These are given each day over one or more weeks. Your doctor will discuss your treatment plan with you.

Radiotherapy treatment affects only a small area of skin and will not make you feel unwell. The treated skin will be red and inflamed for up to a month after treatment. During this time, it will look as though the treatment has made things worse rather than better. This is normal. After a few more weeks, the area will dry up and form a crust or scab. In time, the scab will peel away, leaving healed skin underneath. At first, this new skin will look pinker than the skin around it. This will gradually fade and the treated area will start to look like the skin around it, although it may be slightly paler.

Radiotherapy to areas that produce hair, such as the head, can make the hair fall out in the treated area. Your hair usually grows back in 6–12 months, depending on the dose of radiotherapy and how many sessions you’ve had. Some people find that the hair loss is permanent. You can talk to your clinical oncologist about whether your hair is likely to grow back after treatment.

Radiotherapy doesn’t make you radioactive and it’s perfectly safe for you to be around other people, including children, throughout your treatment.

For more detailed information, you may find it helpful to read our general information about radiotherapy.

Back to Radiotherapy explained

Who might I meet?

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

After treatment

It can take time for your body to recover after finishing treatment. Advice and support is always available.