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Having radiotherapy treatment

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

When radiotherapy is used for ovarian cancer

Doctors don't often use radiotherapy to treat ovarian cancer. The main treatment is surgery, and most women will also have chemotherapy. 

Radiotherapy is sometimes recommended for stage 1c and stage 2 cancer after surgery. This is to help kill off any cancer cells left behind and so lower the risk of the cancer coming back. Your doctor will only suggest this if there are very small areas of cancer left in your pelvis and there is no sign of cancer in your abdomen.

For advanced ovarian cancer, your doctor may use radiotherapy to try to shrink tumours and reduce symptoms. This is called palliative radiotherapy.  You can have this treatment to any part of the body where the cancer is causing problems.

Radiotherapy means the use of radiation, usually x-rays, to treat cancer cells.

How you have radiotherapy

You have radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department. If you have radiotherapy after surgery for early stage cancer, you usually have treatment once a day, from Monday to Friday, with a rest over the weekend. 

A course of treatment usually lasts for 3 or 4 weeks. For advanced ovarian cancer, you may have just a few radiotherapy treatments aimed at the area of the cancer.

The radiotherapy room

Radiotherapy machines are very big. They usually rotate around you to give your treatment. The machine does not touch you at any point.

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 your music player. So you can listen to your own music.

Photo of a linear accelerator

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 watch and listen to you on a CCTV screen in the next room. The radiotherapy treatment can last between 10 to 30 minutes. 

You won't be radioactive

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

Travelling to radiotherapy appointments

Tell the radiotherapy department staff if you prefer treatment at a particular time of day. They can try to arrange this.

Car parking can be difficult at hospitals.

It’s worth asking the radiotherapy unit staff:

  • if they can give you a hospital parking permit
  • about discounted parking rates
  • where you can get help with travel fares
  • for tips on free places to park nearby

If you have no other way to get to the hospital, the radiotherapy staff might be able to arrange transport for you. But it might not always be at convenient times. Some hospitals have their own drivers or can arrange ambulances. Some charities offer hospital transport.

Side effects

Radiotherapy for ovarian cancer has some side effects, including diarrhoea and tiredness.

Last reviewed: 
29 Nov 2016
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    Tobias J. and Hochhauser D.
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Newly diagnosed and relapsed epithelial ovarian carcinoma:ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    Annals of oncology 2013. 24 (suppl 6): Vi24 - vi 32

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