Having radiotherapy for penile cancer
Find out about having radiotherapy for penile cancer. You can find information on
Having radiotherapy for penile cancer
You have radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department. If you have external radiotherapy, you usually have it once a day, from Monday to Friday. You have a rest over the weekend. You usually have radiotherapy for between 4 and 6 weeks.
Planning your treatment
The radiotherapy team carefully plans your treatment. On your first visit, you have a planning CT scan. The doctor uses the scan to work out exactly where to give the treatment. They make marks on your skin. This helps the radiographer to line up the radiotherapy machine when you have your daily treatment.
This is also called brachytherapy. It might involve putting a mould over your penis. The mould is connected to a radioactive source. Or you may have thin tubes put into your penis, while you are under anaesthetic.
You might need to stay in hospital on the ward. Treatment can last for up to 7 days. Children and pregnant women won’t be able to go into your room. This is because both internal radiotherapy treatments might release some radioactivity while you are having them.
Your doctor removes the wires at the end of treatment. You might have either a local or general anaesthetic for this. There is no more radioactivity once the wires are taken out.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating penile cancer section.
You have radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department. If you have external radiotherapy, you usually have it in short sessions once a day from Monday to Friday. You have a rest over the weekend.
You usually have radiotherapy for between 4 and 6 weeks. Each treatment lasts about 30 minutes.
Before you begin your treatment, the radiotherapy team carefully plans 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 might take from 15 minutes up to a couple of hours.
You 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 put some markers on your skin. You need to lie 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 might also have other scans, such as an MRI scans. Your treatment team can feed the other scans into the planning scanner.
Once the treatment team has planned your radiotherapy, they might put ink marks on your skin. This makes 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 might have to wait a few days or up to 2 weeks before you start treatment. During this time the radiotherapy team decides the final details of your plan. Your doctor plans the areas that need treatment. They also outline areas to limit the dose to or avoid completely. They call this contouring. The physicists and staff called dosimetrists then plan the treatment using computers.
Radiotherapy machines are big. The machine might be fixed in one position or it may be able able to move around your body. It can give treatment from different directions. Before your first treatment your radiographers 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 have the treatment. It takes anything from between 10 to 30 minutes. It is important to lie in the same position each time. The radiographers may take a little while to get you ready. You might have a device put on to your penis to hold it away from your body during treatment.
Once you are in the right position the staff leave you alone in the room for a few minutes. They watch you on a closed circuit television screen. External radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive. You can be with other people, including children, throughout your course of treatment.
We have a video about having radiotherapy that you might want to watch.
This is also called brachytherapy (prounounced brack-ee-therapy). You can have brachytherapy in two ways, either by
- placing a mould over the penis which is then connected to a brachytherapy machine
- placing thin tubes into your penis under anaesthetic
You need to stay in hospital and be in a room on your own. The length of treatment depends on the dose of radiotherapy you are having. It can last for up to 7 days. Children and pregnant women might not be able to go into your room, depending on the type of treatment you have. Before you start your treatment, the nurses will explain which visitors can see you.
Your doctor removes the mould or tubes at the end of treatment. You might have either a local or general anaesthetic during this. There is no more radioactivity once the mould or tubes are taken out. You can then go home.
For general information and support
Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)
Share experiences on our online forum – Cancer Chat
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team