Radiotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to treat cancer cells and reduce tumours. The type of radiotherapy will depend on the type and size of the cancer, and other individual circumstances.
There are other kinds of treatment available for cancer and radiotherapy will be recommended only if specialists think it’s the best option for you. Whether or not you decide to go through with the treatment is at your discretion and no decision will be made without your consent to receive treatment.
Radiotherapy requires some preparation, including scans and tests to accurately assess the size and location of the cancer. This will determine the highest possible dose that can be delivered, while avoiding damage to healthy cells as much as possible.
The treatment is usually done daily over the course of several weeks and patients can expect from one to around five doses of treatment in a week. This may vary and will depend on the individual plan based on type, size or location of the cancer. You may receive multiple doses a day up to seven days a week.
This will all be determined prior to you starting treatment and a care plan will be created to ensure you know how much time will be spent at the hospital or radiotherapy centre receiving treatments.
Radiotherapy can be given in several ways from external radiotherapy, internal radiotherapy such as taking a liquid or having an implant, or intrabeam radiotherapy which is usually done during surgery.
External radiotherapy uses a beam of radiation which is directed at your cancer. This requires you to lie as still as possible while receiving the treatment to ensure that it stays in the directed area, however, it usually takes a few minutes up to a few hours and is painless. The measures are taken in place to ensure the treatment is delivered in a safe manner.
Liquid radiation can be given internally via a drink, an injection or swallowing a capsule. This is only used for certain types of cancer such as thyroid cancer. This form of radiotherapy usually requires you to remain in the hospital for a few days as you may be radioactive and you must be monitored as a precaution to avoid putting others at risk of radiation exposure.
Radiotherapy implants can be used to treat cancer by inserting an implant close to where the cancer is either with or without surgery. The time the implant remains in your body depends on your individual circumstances and sometimes the empty implant may stay permanently. Again, you may be required to stay in the hospital or centre for several days during this treatment.
Intrabeam radiotherapy works by a beam of radiation being directed directly at the exposed tumour during surgery and is usually used to treat breast cancer. This is a more invasive form of treatment due to the need for surgery and may require a longer hospital stay while you recover.
There are several side-effects associated with radiotherapy so you must research these before deciding to undergo treatment. Discussing these with your doctor before making your decision can give you a better insight into what to expect both during and after treatment.