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Having external radiotherapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about having external radiotherapy treatment. There is information about


Travelling to your appointments

If you have a long way to travel each day to get to your radiotherapy appointment you may feel very tired, especially if you have side effects from the treatment. 

If you drive your own car or use public transport you can usually make your appointment time to suit you and the radiographers. If you can, ask a family member or friend to drive you to the hospital, even just a couple of times a week. Car parking can be difficult at hospitals. You can ask the radiotherapy unit staff if they can give you a hospital parking permit. Or they may be able to give you tips on free places to park nearby.

If you need help with travelling, the radiotherapy staff can usually help to arrange transport for you. Some hospitals have their own drivers or can arrange ambulances. Some charities offer hospital transport. Look at the cancer organisations list for some names and addresses to contact.


Staying near the hospital

If you find it difficult to get to the hospital, you may need to stay in

  • The ward
  • A hostel ward in the hospital or nearby
  • Accommodation close to the hospital

Paying for travel costs

You may be able get a grant towards your travel expenses. People on low incomes can sometimes claim the costs from the DSS. Look at our who can help section. Some charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Support give travel grants. Ask the hospital social worker or one of the nurses in the radiotherapy clinic about grants and how you can claim.

If you are taking part in a clinical trial, money may be set aside to help with your travel costs, so do ask the staff in the radiotherapy department.


The treatment room

Radiotherapy machines are very big and may make you feel nervous when you see them for the first time. 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. In some departments the treatment rooms have tape or CD players so you can listen to music while you have treatment. The radiographers often invite patients to bring in their favourite music so it can be played during the treatment sessions.

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


Getting ready for treatment

You can't feel radiotherapy when you actually have the treatment. It takes anything from a few seconds to several minutes. But because your position is so important, the radiographers may take a little while to get you ready. You can help by trying to relax as much as possible during this time.

Once you are in the right position the staff leave you alone in the room. This is so they are not exposed to the radiation. You will only be alone for a few minutes and you can talk to the radiographers using an intercom. The staff watch you carefully either 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.

The video below shows how you have radiotherapy:

View a transcript of the video showing how you have radiotherapy.

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Updated: 2 July 2012