External beam radiotherapy

This type of treatment is used much less commonly for treating differentiated thyroid cancer.

It may be used:

  • if there is a high risk of your cancer coming back in your neck
  • if it isn’t possible to remove all your tumour
  • if your cancer has spread to other parts of your body. For example, the bone.

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

Planning your treatment

Before you start your treatment it needs to be planned. Planning makes sure that the radiotherapy is aimed precisely at your cancer so that it causes the least possible damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. All radiotherapy treatments are planned on an individual basis. You may need to have a mould or mask made before your treatment is planned.

Having external beam radiotherapy

External radiotherapy is normally given as a series of short, daily outpatient treatments with a rest at the weekend. It is given in the radiotherapy department using equipment similar to a large x-ray machine. How many treatments you have will depend on the aim of your treatment.

Before each treatment session, the radiographers will explain to you what you’ll see and hear. They’ll position you on the treatment couch and carefully fit your mask if you have one. This is to keep your head still while you have your treatment.

Once you are in the correct position the radiographers will leave the room. There will be a camera or window so they can see you. Many treatment rooms have an intercom so the radiographers can talk to you while you’re having treatment. You will also be able to speak to them if you need to.

Side effects of external beam radiotherapy

Radiotherapy can cause general side effects such as tiredness (fatigue).

Specific side effects of radiotherapy to the neck can include:

Your doctor, nurse specialist or radiotherapist will discuss any possible side effects with you before you start your treatment.

Back to External beam radiotherapy explained

Making a radiotherapy mask

During radiotherapy to the head and neck a mask is used to help you keep still so that exactly the right area is treated.

After treatment

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