Radiotherapy for liver cancer
This page tells you about radiotherapy for primary liver cancer. You can find the following information
Radiotherapy for liver cancer
Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. It is not often used to treat liver cancer as it can damage the part of the liver that is not affected by the cancer. However, some people may benefit from receiving lower doses of radiotherapy to shrink a large liver cancer and relieve pressure, which may be causing pain. Radiotherapy to the liver may also help control sickness.
Doctors are looking at newer ways of giving radiotherapy which gives higher doses to the cancer but spares the surrounding liver tissue.
If you have liver cancer that has spread to another part of your body, such as the bones, you may have radiotherapy to treat the area and relieve symptoms such as pain.
You have external radiotherapy treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department. The treatment does not hurt. And it does not make you radioactive. It is perfectly safe to be with other people, including children, throughout your treatment course.
You are more likely to have radiotherapy to help control symptoms, and the dose is low. So you may not have too many side effects. Radiotherapy to control symptoms is often given in just a few treatments. It often causes tiredness and you may also have sickness and diarrhoea.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating liver cancer section.
External radiotherapy is not often used to treat liver cancer as radiation can damage the part of the liver that is not affected by the cancer. Doctors may use it more for bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) than hepatocellular liver cancers.
However, some people may benefit from low doses of radiotherapy to shrink a large liver cancer and relieve pressure that is causing pain. Radiotherapy to the liver may also help control sickness.
Doctors are looking at newer ways of giving radiotherapy which gives higher doses to the cancer but very low doses to the surrounding liver tissue.
If you have liver cancer that has spread to another part of your body, such as the bones, you may have radiotherapy to treat the area and control symptoms such as pain.
Radioembolisation is a type of internal radiotherapy used to treat liver cancer. For more information you can read about it on this page.
Radiotherapy uses high energy rays similar to X-rays to kill cancer cells.
You have external radiotherapy treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department. For primary liver cancer, you are likely to have a small number of treatments. You may have one treatment a day for a few days or one treatment a week for a few weeks.
Before you begin your treatment, the radiotherapy team carefully plan your external beam radiotherapy. This means working out how much radiation you need to treat the cancer and exactly where you need it.
Your planning appointment may take from 15 minutes up to a couple of hours. You will have a planning CT scan. The scan shows the cancer and the structures around it.
You lie on the scanner couch with the treatment area exposed. The radiographers will put some markers on your skin. You need to lie very still. Once you are in position the radiographers move the couch up and through the scanner. The scanner is a doughnut shape.
The radiographers leave the room and the scan starts. It takes up to 5 minutes. You won't feel anything. The radiographers watch from the next door room.
Before the planning appointment you may also have other scans, such as MRI scans or PET scans. Your treatment team can feed the other scans into the planning scanner.
Once the treatment team has planned your radiotherapy, they may put ink marks on your skin to make sure they treat exactly the same area every day. They may also make pin point sized tattoo marks in these areas.
After your planning session
You may have to wait a few days or up to 2 weeks before you start treatment. During this time the physicists and your radiotherapy doctor decide the final details of your plan.
Your doctor will plan the areas that need treatment and outline areas to limit the dose to or avoid completely. They call this contouring. Then the physicists and staff called dosimetrists plan the treatment very precisely using advanced computers.
Radiotherapy machines are very big. 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. The treatment rooms usually have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music.
You can't feel radiotherapy when you actually have the treatment. It takes anything from 15 to 30 minutes. It is important to lie in the same position each time, so the radiographers may take a little while to get you ready.
Once you are in the right position the staff leave you alone in the room for a few minutes. They watch you carefully on a closed circuit television screen.
Our page about having external radiotherapy has a video about having radiotherapy that you may want to watch.
External radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive. It is perfectly safe to be with other people, including children, throughout your course of treatment.
You are most likely to be have radiotherapy to help control symptoms, and the dose is low for this. So you are unlikely to have too many side effects.
Radiotherapy often causes tiredness. This usually increases towards the end of a course of treatment. You may continue to feel more tired than usual for a few days or weeks after you finish treatment.
The liver is very near the stomach and bowel, so radiotherapy to this part of the body can cause sickness or diarrhoea. Your nurse or doctor will give you medicines to help reduce both these side effects.
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