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Where you have radiotherapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about where you go to have radiotherapy. There are sections about

 

Where you have external radiotherapy

You usually have external radiotherapy as an outpatient, which often means travelling to the radiotherapy department at your nearest cancer centre or unit. This may be further away than your local hospital. 

If you prefer to have treatment at a particular time of day, let the radiotherapy department staff know so that they can try to arrange this. If the radiotherapy department is too far for you to travel from home, the hospital may have hostel accommodation where you can stay, if you need to.

If you are already staying in hospital, you go to the radiotherapy department from your ward.

 

External radiotherapy equipment

Radiotherapy equipment takes up a lot of space and needs specially trained staff to operate and maintain it. There are different types of machine for giving external radiotherapy. The type you'll have is carefully chosen by your radiotherapy specialist (clinical oncologist).

Below is a 360° photograph of a radiotherapy room containing a linear accelerator radiotherapy machine. Use the arrows to move the picture and look around the room.

Treatment doesn't usually last more than a few minutes a day. But it may take a little while to get you into the exact position to have the radiotherapy. Just before, or during, the treatment the machine may take X-rays or scans to make sure the radiotherapy is targeted at exactly the right area.

It's normal to feel anxious about radiotherapy treatment. But as you get to know the staff and the procedure it usually gets easier. Don't be afraid to talk to the staff about any fears or worries. They are there to help you.

We have detailed information about planning external radiotherapy and having external radiotherapy in this section.

 

Where you have internal radiotherapy

There are two main sorts of internal radiotherapy

Radioactive implants

A doctor or radiographer carefully puts a radioactive metal object known as a source inside your body, into or close to the tumour. The source may be a small sealed metal tube, small seeds or metal wires. When you have a radioactive implant you may have it as a day case as an outpatient treatment that takes a few hours. Or you may need to stay in hospital in a single room for a few days with the implant in place. You need to be in a single room so that other people are not exposed to any radiation. When the source is removed you are no longer radioactive.

Some types of radioactive seeds may be left in the body permanently because they only give radiation to a tiny area around them and after a set time, they lose all their radiation. Doctors sometimes use this type of treatment to treat early prostate cancer.

Radioactive liquids

Doctors treat some types of tumour with radioactive liquid. You may have the liquid as a drink or by injection into a vein. The liquid circulates in the blood and gets absorbed by the tumour cells. For some types of tumour the doctor may inject a radioactive liquid into the part of the body containing the tumour, instead of into a vein.

After you have some types of radioactive liquid treatment, you may need to stay in hospital in a single room for a few days. This allows the amount of radioactivity in your body to fall to safe levels. Radioactive liquid is most commonly used to treat thyroid cancer or cancer that has spread to the bones.

With some types of internal radiotherapy the dose of radiation is so low that it is OK for you to go straight home after the treatment.

Before you leave hospital, the staff check that you and your belongings are free of radioactivity. Please check with the staff about how much time you can spend with friends or family and how close you can get to them. There is information about this in the section about internal radiotherapy safety.

 

Travelling to radiotherapy appointments

The radiotherapy department staff may be able to give you a hospital parking permit to use for your appointments. Or you may be able to have discounted parking rates. The staff can tell you about where to get help with travel fares. If you are not able to travel on your own the staff can arrange for you to travel by hospital transport or ambulance if necessary.

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Updated: 15 April 2014