Diagnosis and treatment

There are several different ways to give radiotherapy. We'll give you detailed information about the type of radiotherapy you're having when you come to the unit, and answer any questions you have.

Radiotherapy is generally given to cure cancer, to relieve your symptoms, or as part of the process of a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

Curing cancer

We often use radiotherapy to destroy a tumour, and cure cancer. You might be given radiotherapy on its own, or it may be given before or after surgery or chemotherapy.

You'll usually need to come into hospital each weekday for between two and seven weeks. We'll give you a small dose of radiotherapy at each visit. We use small doses to allow healthy cells in the area being treated to recover from any damage that is caused by the radiotherapy, as it damages the cancer cells.

There are three main ways this radiotherapy can be delivered:

  • The most common is external beam radiotherapy - you will lie on a couch while a radiation beam is pointed at the affected part of your body using a large machine called a Linac (linear accelerator).
  • Internal radiotherapy can be delivered by brachytherapy. Solid radioactive material is placed in your body, close to or inside the tumour. This material might be something that will be removed after a set time, or it might be something that will stay in your body but will lose its radioactivity after a few weeks. We normally use brachytherapy to treat cancer of the cervix, womb, vagina or prostate.
  • Another form of internal radiotherapy is radioisotope treatment. A radioactive liquid, most commonly radioactive iodine, is injected into a vein or given to you to drink. We use this to treat tumours of the thyroid gland.

Palliative treatment

If we can't cure your cancer, we might give you radiotherapy to relieve your symptoms or help with any pain. This would usually involve lower doses of external radiotherapy, over a shorter period of time.

Total body irradiation

If you're having a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, you may be given total body irradiation (TBI) as part of your treatment. Radiation is given to your whole body in eight small doses, to destroy the cells of your bone marrow. You will also be given high doses of chemotherapy.

After being treated, you'll be given new bone marrow through a drip to replace the bone marrow that has been destroyed.