Radiotherapy for bowel cancer symptoms | Cancer Research UK
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Radiotherapy for bowel cancer symptoms

Men and women discussing bowel cancer

This page is about radiotherapy for bowel cancer symptoms. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Radiotherapy for bowel cancer symptoms

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to treat cancer. If your bowel cancer has already spread (advanced bowel cancer), the aim of radiotherapy is usually to shrink the cancer, or slow down its growth. 

This relieves symptoms such as pain in the pelvis or back passage (rectum). Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms is called palliative radiotherapy.

You have your treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department. You may have just one treatment or a few treatments. Each treatment only takes a few minutes. The radiographer positions you on the treatment table and makes sure you are comfortable. You will be left alone while you have your treatment but the radiographers can hear you through an intercom.

Radiotherapy doesn't hurt. You won't be able to feel it but you need to lie very still for the few minutes that you have your treatment. External radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive. It is perfectly safe to be with other people, including children, throughout your course of treatment.

The side effects are usually mild with radiotherapy for symptom control.
 

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What radiotherapy is

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to treat cancer. Doctors sometimes use it for advanced cancer of the large bowel (colon) or back passage (rectum).

 

What radiotherapy can do

If your cancer has already spread (advanced bowel cancer), the aim of radiotherapy is usually to shrink the cancer or slow down its growth. This relieves symptoms such as pain in the pelvis or rectum. Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms is called palliative radiotherapy.

 

Having radiotherapy for symptoms

You have radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department. You may have just one treatment or a few treatments. Each treatment only takes a few minutes. The radiographer positions you on the treatment table and makes sure you are comfortable. 

You will be left alone while you have your treatment but the radiographers can hear you through an intercom. You can talk to them or ask them questions. Radiotherapy doesn't hurt. You won't be able to feel it but you need to lie very still for the few minutes that you have your treatment.

External radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive. It is perfectly safe to be with other people, including children, throughout your course of treatment. The side effects are usually mild with radiotherapy for symptom control.

 

Radiotherapy for cancer spread to the liver

If you have bowel cancer that has only spread to the liver (liver metastases), and you can't have surgery, you may have a type of external radiotherapy called stereotactic radiotherapy. This gives high doses of radiation precisely targeted at the tumour in the liver. 

The radiotherapy machine aims multiple beams of radiation at the tumour from different directions. Each individual beam gives only a small amount of radiation so normal tissue around the tumour only receives a small dose.

Or you may have a type of internal radiotherapy called selective internal radiotherapy (SIRT). The doctor (radiologist) puts tiny radioactive beads into the main artery taking blood to the liver. These beads give off high doses of radiation to the tumour, but causes little damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. This treatment is not available in all hospitals, so you may need to travel to a specialist centre.

 

Where to find more information about radiotherapy

Find out about

Radiotherapy

Treatment types for advanced bowel cancer

Internal radiotherapy

SIRT internal radiotherapy

Radiotherapy team

Bowel cancer organisations

For general information and support

Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday)

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Updated: 17 September 2015