On this page: What is radiotherapy? | How does radiotherapy work? | Why have radiotherapy? | Where will I have treatment? | Travelling to treatment | How is radiotherapy given? | How do I know the treatment has worked? | Which health professionals will I see? | Acknowledgements
Radiotherapy uses radiation, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams or protons, to kill or damage cancer cells and stop them from growing and multiplying.
Radiotherapy damages cancer cells in the area being treated. Although the radiation can also damage normal cells, they can usually repair themselves.
Many people diagnosed with cancer will have radiotherapy as part of their cancer treatment. Research shows that at least one in two people recently diagnosed with cancer would benefit from radiotherapy. It can be used for several reasons:
Radiotherapy needs specially trained staff and takes up a lot of space. For these reasons, it's usually given in a large hospital or at a treatment clinic.
Radiotherapy departments are run in different ways, and their procedures may vary slightly. While this information will apply to most departments, you may find things are done a little differently at the place where you're being treated.
While treatment schedules can vary for individuals, most people have radiotherapy as outpatients, travelling to the radiotherapy department each day. If you're driving to the treatment centre, you may find you feel tired after awhile. You may want to arrange for a family member or friend to drive you to treatment.
If you have to travel a long way each day to treatment, you may be able to get some financial assistance towards the cost of accommodation or travel. To check your eligibility or to make an application, speak to the hospital social worker or call Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20.
It can be given in two ways:
Depending on the type and size of the cancer, and where it is in your body, you may have one or both types of radiotherapy.
In the weeks and months following your course of treatment, you'll talk with your doctor, be examined and may have some tests. Cancer cells begin to die during a course of radiotherapy and this may continue for weeks or months after treatment ends. The examination and tests will show if the cancer has gone away, although it may be some time after treatment finishes before the full benefit can be confirmed. This is because sometimes cancer can come back (recur) at the same place or in another part of the body. If radiotherapy is given as palliative treatment, the relief of symptoms will tell you if the treatment has worked. This may take a few weeks.
Health professionals who care for people having radiotherapy include: