Radiotherapy and cancer | Cancer Research UK
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Curative treatment

Curative radiotherapy treatment aims to cure a patient of their cancer. The term for this is radical radiotherapy. Your doctor may prescribe radiotherapy to destroy a cancerous tumour. It is one of the most important treatments to help cure cancer. 

The length of your course of treatment depends on the size and type of the cancer and where it is in your body. Curative radiotherapy may be combined with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or biological therapy.


Treatment to control symptoms

You may have radiotherapy to relieve symptoms, for example to reduce pain. This is called palliative treatment. You may have your treatment in a single day or over a few days.


Treatment before surgery

Radiotherapy is sometimes given before surgery to shrink a tumour and so make it safer and easier for the surgeon to remove. Radiotherapy before surgery is then called neoadjuvant treatment or preoperative radiotherapy.


Treatment after surgery

Radiotherapy after surgery is given to kill off any remaining cancer cells after the operation. It aims to lower the risk of the cancer coming back. It is often used in breast cancer, rectal cancer, and cancers of the head and neck area. It is called adjuvant treatment or postoperative radiotherapy.


Radiotherapy and cancer drugs

Chemotherapy can be given before, during or after a course of radiotherapy. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy given together is called chemoradiotherapy or chemoradiation.

Biological therapies can also be combined with radiotherapy to treat some types of cancer.


Total body irradiation (TBI)

Total body irradiation (TBI) is a type of radiotherapy sometimes given to patients having a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant, for example for some types of leukaemia or lymphoma. 

You have radiation to the whole body combined with chemotherapy. The treatment destroys the bone marrow cells. You then have new bone marrow or stem cells into your bloodstream. The bone marrow or stem cells are either your own or from someone else (a donor).


More information about radiotherapy

Find out about

Radiotherapy to control symptoms

Bone marrow and stem cell transplants

Cancer treatments

Total body irradiation (TBI)

Or for general information and support 

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four in ten who beat cancer have had radiotherapy


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Updated: 10 February 2016