What is pelvic radiotherapy?

Using radiotherapy to treat cancer in the pelvis is called pelvic radiotherapy. The pelvis is the lower part of the tummy, between the hips.

You may have pelvic radiotherapy in two different ways:

  • External beam radiotherapy, from outside the body – you will have several short, daily treatments that are painless. These do not make you radioactive.
  • Internal radiotherapy, also known as brachytherapy from inside the body – you may have a few separate treatments as an outpatient, or as an inpatient over a few days. While the radioactive material is inside the body, your team are careful to protect people around you from radiation. For example, they may look after you in a single treatment room.

Some people have both external beam and internal radiotherapy. Your doctor or nurse will explain your treatment plan. For internal radiotherapy, you may need a general anaesthetic or spinal anaesthetic (injection of painkillers into the spine). Your team will give you information about this, and any other safety measures you need to know about.

Pelvic radiotherapy

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy rays to destroy the cancer cells. Using radiotherapy to treat cancer in the pelvis is called pelvic radiotherapy.

The pelvis in men

The pelvis is the lower part of the tummy (abdomen) between the hips. In men, it has the following:

  • lower end of the large bowel (the colon, rectum and anus) and part of the small bowel
  • prostate gland, testicles, penis and bladder
  • lymph nodes (glands)
  • pelvic bones
  • blood vessels and nerves.

The male pelvis
The male pelvis

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 The bowel
The bowel

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The pelvis in women

The pelvis is lower part of the tummy (abdomen), between the hips. In women, it has the following:

  • ovaries and fallopian tubes
  • womb (uterus), cervix and vagina
  • bladder
  • lower end of the large bowel (the colon, rectum and anus)
  • part of the small bowel
  • lymph nodes (glands)
  • pelvic bones
  • blood vessels and nerves.

The female pelvis
The female pelvis

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The bowel
The bowel

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Having pelvic radiotherapy

You may have pelvic radiotherapy to treat:

A team of specialists plan and give you radiotherapy. They also give you information, practical care and support throughout your treatment. Your team includes:

  • a cancer doctor (clinical oncologist) or a consultant radiographer – experts in treating cancer with radiotherapy
  • therapeutic radiographers – who help plan and give each radiotherapy treatment and offer advice and support
  • a specialist nurse (usually) – who can give advice and support.

You can discuss any worries you have about treatment or side effects with your team.

You may have radiotherapy from outside the body, called external beam radiotherapy. Or you can have it from inside the body, called internal radiotherapy or brachytherapy. Some people have both types.


External beam radiotherapy

You normally have this as several short, daily treatments in a radiotherapy department. It is given using a machine that looks like a large x-ray machine or CT scanner.

You usually have external beam radiotherapy as an outpatient. Sometimes, you have it during a hospital stay. Your cancer doctor, radiographer or nurse will explain how many treatment sessions you need, and when you will have them.

Each treatment takes a few minutes and is painless. It does not make you radioactive. It is safe for you to be with other people throughout treatment. This includes children and pregnant women.

Radiotherapy explained

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

Information about our videos

Radiotherapy explained

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

Information about our videos


Internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy)

Internal radiotherapy uses a radioactive material that is put inside the body to treat the cancer. This is also called brachytherapy.

You may have it as an outpatient over a few separate treatments. Or you might have it as an inpatient over a few days. This depends on the type of cancer you have. Some people have a general anaesthetic or spinal anaesthetic (injection of painkillers into the spine).

Brachytherapy is given through hollow tubes that are placed inside the body. The tubes can feel uncomfortable while they are in place. The nurses will give you painkillers to help with this. You cannot feel the radiotherapy when you are having it. The tubes are removed when treatment is finished.

There may be some differences in how each hospital does brachytherapy. Your doctor or nurse will explain what to expect.

Radiation safety during brachytherapy

While the radioactive material is inside the body, your team are careful to protect people around you from radiation. For example, they may look after you in a single treatment room. As soon as the radioactive material is removed from your body, there is no risk to people around you. You are not radioactive.

For some types of brachytherapy, tiny radioactive seeds stay inside the body permanently. The seeds release radiation slowly. They become less radioactive over several months. As a precaution, you may be asked to avoid close contact with children or pregnant women for a time. Your team will explain this, and any other safety measures you need to know about.

The radiology staff who performed the brachytherapy were amazing. Very kind, supportive and very gentle. They really made me feel looked after.

Daloni

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Side effects during treatment

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

After pelvic radiotherapy

Your radiotherapy team will explain any follow-up you need, how they can help and how you can help yourself.