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Having external radiotherapy

What happens during external radiotherapy treatment including getting to the hospital.

Travelling to radiotherapy appointments

Travelling a long way each day to get to your radiotherapy appointment might make you feel very tired, especially if you have side effects from the treatment.

You can ask the radiographers to make your appointment time to suit you, they will do their best to make the appointments as convenient as possible.

Ask a family member or friend to drive you to the hospital, even just a couple of times a week. 

Car parking can be difficult at hospitals. You can ask the radiotherapy unit staff if they can give you a hospital parking permit or advice on discounted parking. They may be able to give you tips on free places to park nearby.

The radiotherapy staff can usually help to arrange transport for you if you need help with travelling. Some hospitals have their own drivers or can arrange ambulances. Some charities offer hospital transport.

Staying near the hospital

There are places you can stay if you find it difficult to get to the hospital. These include: 

  • the hospital ward
  • a hostel ward in the hospital or nearby
  • accommodation close to the hospital

Paying for travel costs

You might be able get a grant towards your travel expenses. People on low incomes can sometimes claim the costs from the Department for Work and Pensions. 

Ask the hospital social worker or one of the nurses or radiographers in the radiotherapy clinic about grants and how you can claim.

Money might be set aside to help with your travel costs if you are taking part in a clinical trial, although this is not common. You can ask the staff in the radiotherapy department about that.

The treatment room

Radiotherapy machines are very big and could make you feel nervous when you see them for the first time. The machine might be fixed in one position or able to rotate around your body to give treatment from different directions. 

Before your first treatment your radiographers will explain what you will see and hear. 

In some departments the treatment rooms have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music while you have treatment.

External radiotherapy machine

Having external radiotherapy treatment

You can't feel radiotherapy when you actually have the treatment. Because your position is so important, the radiographers may take a little while to get you ready. You can help by trying to relax as much as possible during this time.

Once you are in the right position the staff leave you alone in the room. This is so they are not exposed to the radiation. Depending on the type of treatment you are having, you will be alone for a few minutes or up to 15 minutes. 

The radiographers watch you carefully either through a window or on a closed circuit television screen. They may ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths during the treatment.

The video below shows how you have radiotherapy:

Last reviewed: 
29 Feb 2016
  • External Beam Therapy (Radiotherapy in Practice)
    Peter Hoskin 
    Oxford, Aug 2012

  • De Vita, Hellman, and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (9th edition)
    De Vita, V.T., Lawrence, T.S. and Rosenberg S.A.
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

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