Finding out that your doctors recommend radiotherapy treatment for cancer can be a stressful time. As well as worrying about being unwell and the impact this will have on you and your family, it is common to feel a bit confused. Questions might fly around your head but sometimes be difficult to remember during your appointment times. If you are asking yourself questions like, ‘What does radiotherapy do?’ or ‘how does radiotherapy work and what are the side effects?’ we have the answers for you to these and some other need-to-know radiotherapy questions that might be thinking about.
What does radiotherapy do?
The aim of radiotherapy treatment is to disrupt and destroy the cancer cells that are multiplying in your body. This is done through the use of waves of high-energy or radiation.
How does radiotherapy work?
Radiotherapy treatment relies on accurate targeting of the cancer cells. Your doctors will select the best delivery method for you. Radiotherapy may also be combined with other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and surgery.
What types of radiotherapy treatment are there?
Radiotherapy can be delivered in different ways. External beam radiotherapy uses a highly accurate machine to direct beams at the cancer. Internal radiotherapy delivers radioactive material inside the body using different types of temporary or permanent implants, injections or swallowed liquids.
What is radiotherapy used for?
External beam radiotherapy is a common treatment for many types of cancer. Your treatment team will decide whether internal radiotherapy in the form of implants, liquid or injections will offer a preferable treatment for your cancer and the stage at which it is being treated.
What are the benefits of radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy is recommended for many types of cancer and, although it works well in conjunction with other cancer treatments, can sometimes be the only treatment that is needed. Radiotherapy can be used to treat cancers that cannot be treated by chemotherapy or surgery and can be targeted directly at a specific treatment area. Radiotherapy can be used to eradicate cancer cells or alleviate upsetting symptoms and improve quality of life.
Why does radiotherapy make you tired?
Many people report feeling tired following radiotherapy treatment. This could be for a number of reasons related to your body’s natural healing processes but also because you are in pain, feel anxious or have to travel for treatment. Levels of tiredness can increase during radiotherapy treatment so it is important to look after yourself by eating and drinking healthily, resting as necessary and accepting help when it is offered.
How long does tiredness persist after radiotherapy?
Tiredness can continue for a few weeks after radiotherapy because your body is still adjusting to the treatment and still healing any damaged tissues.
How long does radiotherapy stay in your body?
Any radiation used during external beam radiotherapy will pass instantly through your body and not leave you radioactive. This means that your friends and family will be safe spending time with you. If your doctors recommend internal radiotherapy, you will be radioactive for a short while and will be required to remain in hospital with limited visits and contact.
How long does radiotherapy take?
Each external beam radiotherapy appointment takes around 15 minutes but some of this time will be used to set up the equipment and your position to ensure accurate treatment delivery. Typically treatments are delivered daily from Monday to Friday with breaks to allow recovery in any normal cells that might be affected by treatment.
How long does radiotherapy last?
External beam radiotherapy passes through the body instantly. Internal radiotherapy delivers radiation at different rates depending on the type of cancer and recommended treatment. Low dose-rate treatment may require an overnight stay in hospital but high dose-rate treatment can usually be completed on an outpatient basis.
What are the side effects of radiotherapy?
Although radiotherapy can cause side effects, these are usually relatively short lasting. As well as tiredness, short-term side effects can include a reduction in white blood cells and consequent risk from infection, skin reactions such as itching and burning, and hair loss at the treatment site only.
How long do the side effects of radiotherapy last?
Most of the side effects of radiotherapy are short-lived and no longer troublesome after a few weeks or months. Longer-term side effects, for example infertility and dental problems can appear, but these are usually related to the body area that has been treated.
Will I lose hair from radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy does not cause general hair loss but may result in hair loss at the site of treatment, for example the head. Hair lost during radiotherapy may not grow back.
How long after radiotherapy will I feel better?
You will probably start feeling better a couple of weeks after your radiotherapy but a complete return to normal levels of energy can take up to several months depending on your treatment.
How will I know that my radiotherapy has worked?
Once your radiotherapy treatment is complete, your medical team will explain how to look after your area of treatment and give you the details of your follow up checks and any further treatment. Follow up appointments will allow your doctors to check your progress and advise you on your next course of action.
One of the most common side effects of radiotherapy is the impact it can have on your skin. Skin reactions can include redness, itching, dryness and soreness. Soothing R1 and R2 gel can help patients undergoing radiotherapy treatment deal with these unpleasant symptoms by cooling, hydrating and smoothing the skin.