Radiotherapy is widely used treating cancer. It works by using ionizing radiation to cause damage to the DNA of cancer cells, eventually killing them. Nearby cells can also be damaged in this process but are more likely to recover.
If your doctors feel you need radiotherapy, a course will be devised specifically for you which takes into account the size and extent of your tumour, and your general health.
If you need external beam radiation - where the radiation source is outside your body and is focused on the tumour - you will typically have treatment several times a week for up to six weeks, although there is great variation around this. You may have to attend for a planning session when it will be decided exactly where you will be treated with radiotherapy and the best position for you to lie in. In some cases, moulds are made to hold parts of your body still.
Some patients may benefit from internal radiotherapy where radioactive materials are implanted into the body to cause damage to the tumour. This can be a very effective treatment (see brachytherapy).
With advanced cancers, radiotherapy is sometimes given to control symptoms and improve quality of life. This is called palliative radiotherapy and is not designed to cure the cancer. Palliative radiotherapy tends to be given as a much shorter course than normal radiotherapy.
Being treated with radiotherapy can be a long, time-consuming process. But it can be a very effective way of killing or shrinking your cancer. It is often used after you have had the tumour removed surgically to ensure that every last cancer cell has been killed. This should lessen the chance of cancer reoccurring. Doctors don’t recommend radiotherapy lightly - they know it is a testing time for patients - but believe that for many patients it offers the best chance of getting rid of their cancer entirely.
How people feel after radiotherapy varies. Some will barely notice they have had it while others will not feel well enough to do everyday things. It is quite common to feel very tired and even fluey - which may indicate the body is repairing healthy cells. Some people who have radiotherapy also develop anaemia - a low red blood cell count - which can also make them feel tired.
If your doctors recommend radiotherapy, they will be able to give you advice on likely side-effects and how they can be managed. Most side-effects are only temporary.
Although Ramsay do not provide radiotherapy on-site at their hospitals, we will work with your doctors to ensure you get it in a local unit and that your care is as seamless as possible. Your doctors will talk to you about whether you need radiotherapy and where this part of your treatment can be delivered.
Ramsay hospitals offers a range of screening and diagnostic procedures at a time convenient to you, and also offers treatment for some of the most common types of cancer. We offer the support of multi-disciplinary teams who will be working together to ensure you get the care which is right for you.
If you would like to discuss possible tests or treatment contact us.