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Having external radiotherapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about having external radiotherapy treatment. There is information about

 

Travelling to radiotherapy appointments

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

If you drive your own car or use public transport 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. If you can, 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. Or they may be able to give you tips on free places to park nearby.

If you need help with travelling, the radiotherapy staff can usually help to arrange transport for you. Some hospitals have their own drivers or can arrange ambulances. Some charities offer hospital transport. Look at the cancer organisations list for some names and addresses to contact.

 

Staying near the hospital

If you find it difficult to get to the hospital, you may need to stay in

  • The ward
  • A hostel ward in the hospital or nearby
  • Accommodation close to the hospital
 

Paying for travel costs

You may 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. Look at our who can help section for advice about Government benefits. Some charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Support give travel grants. Ask the hospital social worker or one of the nurses or radiographers in the radiotherapy clinic about grants and how you can claim.

If you are taking part in a clinical trial, money may be set aside to help with your travel costs, 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 may make you feel nervous when you see them for the first time. The machine may 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.

A photo of a linear accelerator, which gives radiotherapy

 

Having external radiotherapy treatment

You can't feel radiotherapy when you actually have the treatment. It takes anything from 1 minute to several minutes. 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. 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:

View a transcript of the video showing how you have radiotherapy.

 

More information about radiotherapy

We have detailed information about different types of external radiotherapy in this section.

There is also detailed information about the side effects of radiotherapy.

We have information about how treatment teams plan external radiotherapy.

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Our general organisations page gives details of people who can provide information about radiotherapy. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. Our cancer and treatments reading list has information about books, leaflets and other resources about radiotherapy treatment.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 23 April 2014