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About radiotherapy

Find out what radiotherapy is and when you might have it for nasal and paranasal sinus cancer.

What radiotherapy is

Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. You usually have the treatment for a short time each week day for a few weeks. The radiation is targeted specifically at the area of cancer from a large radiotherapy machine. 

Treating cancer with radiotherapy

For nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers, you may have:

Radiotherapy on its own

Radiotherapy may be the first choice of treatment for some types of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers. It can cure many people with early stage cancers. Whether this type of treatment is suitable for you will depend on:

  • which type of cancer you have
  • the size of the cancer
  • how far it has grown into the surrounding tissues
  • exactly where the cancer is

There are different types of external radiotherapy. You usually have a type of radiotherapy called intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) for nasal or paranasal cancer. This treatment directs a precisely targeted dose of radiation to the area of the tumour from outside the body. 

Radiotherapy with chemotherapy

You may have radiotherapy and chemotherapy together (chemoradiotherapy) for some types of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers.

Radiotherapy after surgery

Radiotherapy after surgery is called adjuvant therapy. It helps to stop your cancer from coming back. Doctors use radiotherapy after surgery for a number of different reasons. You may have it because:

  • the tumour was difficult to remove
  • your surgeon thinks there may be cancer cells left behind
  • the tumour had spread locally into nearby structures
  • cancer cells were found in your lymph nodes

You usually have treatment every day, Monday to Friday, for between 4 and 7 weeks. You have up to 35 separate treatments called fractions. Breaking the treatment down into a series of smaller treatments helps to keep side effects under control.

If you add up all the radiation doses you have in the fractions, the total will be the complete dose of radiation your specialist has prescribed for you.

Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms

Radiotherapy can relieve symptoms in advanced nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers. You may hear this called palliative radiotherapy. 

Your cancer may be causing difficulty in swallowing or breathing. Some nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers are close to the brain, so they can grow and put pressure on the brain. Radiotherapy can help to relieve this pressure. 

The treatment relieves symptoms by shrinking the cancer. The cancer may grow back, but it could take a while to do so. No one can say how long, but the radiotherapy could relieve your symptoms for some time. 

Radiotherapy can also help to relieve pain. To control symptoms, you are most likely to have a short course of treatment over a few days.

Planning treatment

Before you have radiotherapy you have a session to plan the treatment. 

Last reviewed: 
05 Jul 2016
  • External Beam Therapy
    Peter Hoskin
    Oxford Universtiy Press, 30 Aug 2012

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