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External radiotherapy

What to expect when you have external radiotherapy for womb cancer.

External radiotherapy usually uses high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.

Radiotherapy for womb cancer

Many women have radiotherapy after surgery for womb cancer.

You might have radiotherapy as your main treatment if you can't have surgery. This might be because you are not fit enough for an operation for example.

Doctors also use radiotherapy to treat womb cancer that has come back in the pelvic area. And to help relieve symptoms in women with cancer that has spread to other areas of the body (advanced cancer).

You have radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department, usually as an outpatient. You have the treatment in short sessions (called fractions) each day from Monday to Friday. You don’t have treatment at weekends.

Generally, a course of radiotherapy lasts 4 to 5 weeks.

The radiotherapy room

Radiotherapy machines are very big and can be daunting at first. Some are fixed in one position, but others rotate around your body.  

Before you start treatment your radiographers explain what you'll see and hear. In some departments the treatment rooms have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music.

Photo of a linear accelerator

Before your treatment

Your radiographers help you get into position on the treatment couch.

They line up the radiotherapy machine, using marks on your skin.

You might need to raise your arms above your head.

Then they leave you alone in the room for a few minutes.

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. They might ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths at times. Tell them if you need to move or want the machine to stop.

You won't be radioactive

External radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive. It's safe to be with other people throughout your course of treatment.

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.

Radiotherapy can make you tired, especially if you have a long journey. You could ask a family member or friend to drive you to the hospital a couple of times a week. 

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

The radiotherapy staff can usually help to arrange transport for you if you need it. Some hospitals have their own drivers or can arrange ambulances. Some charities offer hospital transport.

Side effects

Radiotherapy for womb cancer can cause diarrhoea and sickness. Your vagina may become sore and you may have an irritable bladder (radiation cystitis). Radiotherapy can also cause tiredness.

Side effects usually go within a few weeks of finishing treatment.

Tell your doctor, nurse or radiographer if you have any side effects, as they can give you medicines to help.

Last reviewed: 
06 Oct 2014
  • Endometrial cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    N Colombo, E Preti, F Landoni and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2013, Vol 24 (Supplement 6)

  • Principles and practice of oncology (9th edition)
    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

  • Advances in radiotherapy
    SS Ahmad, S Duke, R Jena and others
    British Medical Journal, 2012, Vol 345

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