External beam radiotherapy for secondary bone cancer

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to treat cancer. It works by destroying cancer cells in the area that is being treated.

Normal cells can also be damaged by radiotherapy. But they can usually repair themselves, while cancer cells cannot.

Radiotherapy is often used to treat secondary bone cancer. It can help relieve symptoms such as pain.

You may have external beam radiotherapy. This aims high-energy x-rays at the affected bone from a radiotherapy machine.

About external beam radiotherapy for secondary bone cancer

You may have radiotherapy for secondary bone cancer as:

  • a single treatment session
  • a number of treatment sessions, which are given daily.

Your doctor will discuss your treatment with you and answer any questions you have.

You will normally have radiotherapy to the area of the bone affected by the cancer. It usually takes 7 to 10 days for radiotherapy to start reducing bone pain. It may take up to six weeks before you feel the full effect. You may notice that any pain you have becomes slightly worse before getting better.

During this time, it is important to continue taking the painkillers your doctor prescribes. As your pain improves, you may be able to reduce the amount of painkillers. But, it is important to talk to your doctor or nurse before adjusting the dose.

External radiotherapy does not make you radioactive. It’s perfectly safe to be with other people after treatment, including children.

There is another type of radiotherapy, called radioisotope therapy. This is where you have a radioactive substance either as a capsule or as an injection into a vein.

External beam radiotherapy video

Consultant Clinical Oncologist Vincent Khoo describes external beam radiotherapy, how it works, and what it involves.

Information about our videos

External beam radiotherapy video

Consultant Clinical Oncologist Vincent Khoo describes external beam radiotherapy, how it works, and what it involves.

Information about our videos


Side effects of external beam radiotherapy

This type of radiotherapy usually causes very few side effects. However, treatment to bones in certain areas of the body, such as the ribs or the spine, may make you feel sick for a couple of days after the treatment. Radiotherapy treatment to your pelvis may cause diarrhoea. These side effects can usually be prevented by taking anti-sickness or anti-diarrhoea medicines.

Before your treatment starts, your doctor, nurse or radiographer (who gives the radiotherapy) will discuss any likely side effects with you. They will also arrange for you to have any drugs you may need to manage these side effects.

Back to Radiotherapy

What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. This treatment aims to treat cancer or relieve symptoms.

Your radiotherapy team

You will meet many different specialists from your radiotherapy team. You may see them before, during and after radiotherapy treatment.