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Radiotherapy treatment

Radiotherapy treatment is a painless procedure which uses radiation, usually high energy x-rays, but sometimes, electrons, and more rarely protons, to treat disease. It can cure many cancers by destroying the tumour or stopping it from growing any further.

It is often used before surgery to reduce the size of a tumour prior to removal, or after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that may be left behind. In some cases, cancer cannot be cured, but radiotherapy can be used to slow its growth and to manage and reduce cancer symptoms.


Hello. This short-animated video introduces radiation therapy or radiotherapy… a widely used treatment for cancer.

We hope it will answer some questions and initial concerns.

However, it shouldn't replace advice from a clinical care team.

Let's get started.

What is radiotherapy?

The aim of radiotherapy is simple - to destroy cancer cells – leaving normal, healthy cells unaffected. Cancer cells are more vulnerable than normal cells and we exploit this through treatment by carefully planning and targeting the area to be treated.

Different radiotherapy options are available:

Internal and external radiotherapy

Radiotherapy can be given from outside the body, known as external beam radiotherapy. It can also be given from within the body, known as brachytherapy. Some people with cancer benefit from both.

External-beam radiotherapy typically uses high-energy X-rays given from a machine
called a linear accelerator, and these X-rays destroy the cancer cells…

With brachytherapy, radioactive material is given from within the body

In this animation, we'll be focusing on external beam radiotherapy.

Let's look at some of the technology…

External-beam radiotherapy - the tech

It may come as a surprise but radiotherapy is not a new treatment – it's been used to treat people for around a hundred years.

But the last twenty years or so have seen huge technological improvements.

The side-effects from treatment are also now well understood and better managed.

Most importantly the results, or outcomes from treatment, have also improved, with reduced side effects.

New forms of radiotherapy can now more accurately target the affected area, killing fewer healthy cells. This accuracy also means that higher doses can be given safely if required.

The latest technology includes:

Image guided radiotherapy (IGRT)

This involves collecting images to check a tumors' position before treatment is given. With IGRT the risk of part of the tumour being missed by the X-ray beams is reduced.

Intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)

This specialised way is now used to treat many different types of cancer.

IMRT is a way of the radiographer moulding and varying the strength of each beam to match the size, shape and position of the tumour and can do this more precisely than conventional, or 'conformal' radiotherapy. This allows the treatment to be just as effective while reducing the side-effects.

Volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT)

VMAT is a new type of intensity modulated radiotherapy.

It works by delivering a continuous beam of radiotherapy while the machine is moving, changing the beam shape and treatment dose automatically as it moves.

Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR)

SABR delivers a focused and very high dose of radiotherapy to a tumor in fewer sessions, offering some patients longer disease and symptom control, it is also sometimes used where surgery isn't an option.

Surface guided radiation therapy (SGRT)

SGRT uses sophisticated 3D camera technology to accurately target treatment.

It does this by continuously and accurately monitoring a patient's position during treatment using the surface of the patient to do this.

Without SGRT, people generally need tattoos to line up the beams, but SGRT can mean there's no need for permanent tattoo markers, and this can be of great psychological benefit for people who just want to get on with their lives without a permanent reminder of their treatment.

When is radiotherapy used?

Around half of all cancer patients receive some form of radiotherapy. How well it works of course varies from person to person.

Neoadjuvant radiation and adjuvant treatment

As well as radiotherapy being used as a stand-alone treatment - you may hear the terms neoadjuvant radiation and adjuvant treatment.

Neoadjuvant radiation is radiotherapy used before surgery to reduce the size of a tumour making it easier to remove.

Adjuvant therapy is used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

With chemotherapy

When combined with chemotherapy, treatment is called chemoradiation.

Curative or palliative

In some cases, radiotherapy can cure cancer by destroying a tumor. This is known as curative or 'radical' treatment.

40% of all patients cured of their cancer will have received radiotherapy as part of their curative treatment; and 16% of all cures can be attributed entirely to radiotherapy

In other cases, it won't cure cancer, but will successfully slow its progress, relieve symptoms and help people feel better. This is known as palliative treatment.

What can I expect if I need a course of radiotherapy?

Your care team will talk you through the treatment plan recommended by your consultant oncologist, and explain how it will be given. Radiotherapy tends not to be given as a one-off dose, instead being given as separate treatments or 'fractions', over several days or weeks. Your oncologist will tell you how many times, and how often you'll need to attend the radiotherapy centre.

Are there side-effects?

Like all cancer treatments, radiotherapy does have some side-effects.

These affect people differently, so it's hard to predict how your body may respond.

Side-effects are normally localised to the area of the body that is being treated. These will be discussed with you by your doctor prior to commencing treatment.

The good news is that the majority of side-effects can be managed, and will disappear when treatment stops.

There are many misconceptions around radiotherapy – let's take a look at some…

MYTH - It causes hair loss on the head

Unlike chemotherapy, radiotherapy will not cause hair loss unless treatment is directed to the head.

MYTH - It's painful

When receiving treatment, most people experience nothing more serious than a tingling sensation and slight warming of the skin. After multiple treatments, the skin around the site may feel sore and look red, this is completely normal and will resolve.

MYTH - It makes you radioactive

In fact, external beam radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive – the radiation passes through your body – so when treatment has finished you can go home.

Today, radiotherapy is used to target many of the 200 and more types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer. Other than surgery, radiotherapy remains the most effective type of cancer treatment.

If you want to find out more about radiotherapy visit:

What does radiotherapy treatment for cancer do?

The radiotherapy treatment which is given to destroy and potentially cure a cancer is called radical or curative radiotherapy. Some benign (non-cancerous) conditions can also be treated using radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy works by damaging the DNA within cancer cells causing them to stop growing or die. Normal cells are also affected by radiation, but they are better at repairing themselves than cancerous cells.

GenesisCare uses advanced forms of radiotherapy which use sophisticated technology to more accurately target treatment. This level of precision reduces the amount of normal cells being affected while maintaining a maximum dose to the treatment area.

What to expect with radiotherapy treatment

For more information on what to expect when receiving radiotherapy treatment, including available support and details such as the length and complexity of the treatment, follow the link below.

Read more →

  • SGRT

    SGRT uses sophisticated 3D camera technology to accurately target treatment. This means that patients do not need permanent tattoo markers, which are normally used to line-up the beams.

  • VMAT palliative

    GenesisCare can offer rapid access to VMAT palliative treatment to relieve patients of pain or other distressing symptoms of their cancer and to improve their quality of life.

  • SpaceOAR

    We are excited to be trialling SpaceOAR/Hydrogel technology and will be rolling it out across our centres in 2018.

  • Volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT)

    Volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT) is a type of IMRT. It is sometimes called RapidArc©, depending on the manufacturer of the equipment.

  • Stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy (SABR)

    Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) is a specialised way of delivering radiotherapy and is used to treat many different types of cancer.

  • Deep inspiration breath hold radiotherapy (DIBH)

    DIBH (deep inspiration breath-hold) technology is an effective method of limiting radiation exposure to the heart and lungs.

  • Image guided radiotherapy (IGRT)

    Image guided radiotherapy (IGRT) is a technique which involves collecting images to verify a tumour’s position before external beam radiotherapy.

  • Intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)

    Intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) is a specialised way of delivering radiotherapy and it is used to treat many different types of cancer.

Side effects of radiotherapy

Side effects of radiotherapy vary from person to person. Some people may have a number of side effects while others have very few or none at all.

Read more

Dupuytren's disease

Radiotherapy is also used to treat benign conditions. Radiotherapy treatment can soften tissue affected by early-stage Dupuytren's disease (contracture), in order to treat the progression of the condition.

Read more

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