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Radiotherapy treatment

Find out about what happens when you have external radiotherapy for oesophageal cancer.

Radiotherapy uses high energy waves similar to x-rays to kill cancer cells.

You have external radiotherapy in a hospital radiotherapy department. You usually have it as an outpatient each weekday over 4 to 6 weeks.

Some hospitals have rooms near the hospital you can stay in if you have a long way to travel.

You go to the radiotherapy department from your ward if you’re already in hospital.

The radiotherapy room

Radiotherapy machines are very big. Some are fixed in one position, but others rotate around your body.  

Before you start your course of treatment your radiographers explain what you'll 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.

Photo of a linear accelerator

Before each treatment session

The radiographers help you to get into position on the treatment couch. They fit your mask if you need one to keep you still during the treatment session.

They line up the radiotherapy machine, using marks on the mask or on your skin.

You might need to raise your arms above your head.

Then the radiographers leave you alone in the room for a few minutes.

During the treatment

You need to lie very still. The machine makes whirring and beeping sounds. You can't feel the radiotherapy when you have the treatment. 

Your radiographers can see you and hear you on a CCTV screen in the next room. They can talk to you over an intercom and might ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths at times. They will ask you to raise your hand if you need anything but it is important to stay as still as possible. 

You won't be radioactive

External radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive. It's safe to be with other people throughout your course of treatment, including pregnant women and children.

Side effects of treatment

Radiotherapy to the oesophagus can make you tired and make your mouth and throat sore. You may also have difficulty eating.

Last reviewed: 
05 May 2016
  • Guidelines for the management of oesophageal and gastric cancer. British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), 2011.

  • Management of oesophageal and gastric cancer. A national clinical guideline. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, 2006.

  • National Oesophago Gastric Cancer Audit. NHS Information Centre, Annual Reports 2010, 2012 and 2013.

  • Oesophageal cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up. M Stahl, C Mariette, K Haustermans and others. Annals of Oncology. 2013. 24 (supplement 6) vi51-vi56.

  • Recent developments in esophageal adenocarcinoma. J Lagergren and P Lagergren. Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2013. 62: 232-248.

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