About pelvic radiotherapy

Radiotherapy can be used to cure or control cancer in the pelvic area. This type of treatment is called pelvic radiotherapy and it is used to treat a number of different cancers.

Pelvic radiotherapy can be given externally, or internally. Some people may have a combination of both types.

Pelvic radiotherapy is used to treat bladder, rectal and anal cancer. In men it’s also used to treat prostate cancer. In women, it’s used to treat cervical, womb (endometrial), vaginal and vulval cancer.

Side effects of pelvic radiotherapy depend on different factors including, the type of cancer, the dose of radiotherapy and whether it’s external or internal.

If you have other types of treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy or hormone therapy this can also affect the side effects you might have.

If you are having any side effects talk to your cancer doctor, specialist nurse or radiographer. They can give you advice and treatment to help you cope.

What is pelvic radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy rays to destroy the cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to healthy cells.

Pelvic radiotherapy can be used to treat cancer of the, bladder, rectum or anus. In men, it’s also used to treat cancer of the prostate gland. In women, pelvic radiotherapy can be used to treat cancer of the cervix, womb, vulva, or vagina.

Radiotherapy can either be given from outside the body (externally) or from inside the body (internally). Some people are treated with a combination of both methods.


Side effects of pelvic radiotherapy

Radiotherapy destroys cancer cells in the treated area, but it can also have an effect on some of the surrounding normal tissue.

Radiotherapy affects people in different ways, so it’s difficult to predict exactly how you will react to it. The side effects you have will depend on different factors. These include the type of cancer you have, the dose of radiotherapy given and whether it’s external or internal radiotherapy. For example, radiotherapy to treat cancer of the rectum or anus is not likely to cause as much bladder irritation as radiotherapy to treat cancer of the bladder.

If you also have other types of cancer treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy or hormone therapy, this can affect the side effects you have. Having chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy (called chemoradiation) may cause more severe side effects.

Your cancer specialist, specialist nurse or radiographer will explain the most likely side effects in your situation. Let them know about any concerns or questions you have. They’ll be able to explain how side effects can be treated and give advice on how to cope with them.

Most side effects are temporary and start a week or two into the treatment. They may continue to get worse for a couple of weeks after treatment, before they begin to get better. Side effects usually improve gradually over the next few weeks or more.

Occasionally, some side effects don’t completely go away, or side effects develop months or years later as a result of the radiotherapy. These are called long-term or late effects.

Back to Pelvic radiotherapy explained

The pelvis

Information on the pelvic area of the body.

Side effects during treatment

You may have side effects during and shortly after your treatment. The healthcare team will help you to manage these.

Fertility and pelvic radiotherapy

Pelvic radiotherapy can affect your fertility. This can be distressing but getting the right support can help you to find ways of coping.