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Radiotherapy for stomach cancer

Men and woman discussing stomach cancer

This page tells you about radiotherapy for stomach cancer. There is information on

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Radiotherapy for stomach cancer

Radiotherapy uses high energy waves to kill cancer cells. Doctors don't usually use radiotherapy for stomach cancer. But you may have it for symptoms of an advanced cancer. Radiotherapy may shrink a large cancer and relieve pain. It is also useful for stopping bleeding from an advanced cancer. Trials are looking at combining radiotherapy with chemotherapy to help stop stomach cancer coming back after surgery.

You have radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department. 

Planning treatment

You have a scan from a specialised CT scanner so that your treatment team can plan exactly where to give the radiotherapy. The planning appointment may last about 90 minutes.

Having treatment

You may have one treatment a day for a few days, or several treatments with a few days break between each. The treatment takes anything from 1 minute to several minutes each time. You need to lie very still.

Radiotherapy machines are very big. You lie on a hard couch to have the treatment. The machine may be fixed in one position or able to rotate around your body to give treatment from different directions. The treatment rooms usually have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music.

Side effects

The side effects of treatment to the stomach area are tiredness, feeling or being sick, diarrhoea, reddening of the skin in the treatment area and loss of body hair in the treatment area. You may not have many side effects from your treatment if you are having it for advanced stomach cancer.

You can find more information in the radiotherapy section.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating stomach cancer section.

 

 

What radiotherapy is

Radiotherapy uses high energy waves to cure cancer. Radiotherapy is not usually used for stomach cancer, although trials are looking at combining radiotherapy with chemotherapy to help stop the cancer from coming back after surgery. You are more likely to have radiotherapy to shrink an advanced cancer. This may relieve pressure, which has been causing pain. Radiotherapy is also very useful for stopping bleeding from an advanced cancer.

 

Planning your treatment

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. The 360° photo is of a CT scanner. You can use the arrows to look around the room.

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. 

Ink marks 

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. 

We have information about radiotherapy skin markings

After your planning session 

You may have to wait a few days 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.

 

Having radiotherapy

You have radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department. You may have one treatment a day for a few days or a few treatments with a few days break between each.

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 1 minute to several minutes. It is important to lie in the same position each time, so the radiographers may take a little while to get you ready.

A photo of a linear accelerator, which gives radiotherapy

Once you are in the right position the staff leave you alone in the room for a few minutes. They watch you carefully through a window or on a closed circuit television screen. They may ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths during the treatment.

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.

 

Side effects

The side effects of radiotherapy depend on which part of the body is being treated. The main side effects of radiotherapy to the stomach are

You may not have many side effects from your treatment if you are having it for advanced stomach cancer. You can take an anti sickness drug before each treatment if it makes you feel sick. Ask your doctor if you need these. You are having the treatment to make you feel better. So it is important that the treatment itself does not make you feel worse.

Radiotherapy can cause tiredness for many people. The tiredness wears off over the few weeks following your treatment. 

You can read detailed information about general radiotherapy side effects.

 

More information about radiotherapy

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Our general organisations page gives details of people who can provide information about radiotherapy. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. 

Our cancer and treatments reading list has information about books, leaflets and other resources about radiotherapy treatment.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 29 September 2014