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Radiotherapy for cancer wounds

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page is about radiotherapy treatment to treat cancer wounds (ulcerating or bleeding tumours). There is information about


What ulcerating tumours are

Ulcerating tumours happen when a tumour growing under the skin breaks through the skin’s surface. They are also called fungating tumours. They can also develop from skin cancers such as melanoma. They can be upsetting to have and to cope with. They may be painful and can bleed or produce liquid. They may also smell unpleasant.

There is detailed information about ulcerating tumours and treatment for ulcerating tumours in the section about coping physically with cancer.

Some tumours such as advanced cancers of the vagina, skin, rectum and bladder can form ulcerating areas inside the body that bleed.


Why radiotherapy is used

Radiotherapy is a commonly used treatment for ulcerating tumours. It is very good at shrinking the cancer and can help to dry up and heal the wound as much as possible and so control pain and bleeding. Your doctor may also recommend that you have antibiotics as well as the radiotherapy. Antibiotics can control infection and reduce any unpleasant smell from the wound. 

The radiotherapy can make the area more comfortable and may sometimes heal the wound completely. The treatment will not cure your cancer, but can keep your symptoms under control. 

Radiotherapy is one of a range of treatments to control bleeding tumours. Other treatments include special dressings and packing the wound to put pressure on the bleeding area.


How you have treatment

You have radiotherapy as a series of daily treatment sessions called fractions. You have to go to the radiotherapy department every day, but each treatment only takes a few minutes.

The number of fractions you have will depend on your type of cancer, where the tumour is, and its size and depth. But you are unlikely to need more than 10 fractions (2 weeks of treatment).


Treatment results

Radiotherapy works well for many ulcerating or bleeding cancers and you should notice that your symptoms start to improve within 1 or 2 weeks. But a large or deep ulcer will take some time to heal. The treatment may heal the ulcer completely or it may shrink it and make it easier to manage.


Side effects

The ulcerated area may seem worse at first when you begin radiotherapy. This is because the cancer cells are dying off and making the wound seem larger or deeper. The side effects are usually mild. You may feel more tired than before the treatment started. You may have a mild skin reaction to the radiotherapy, making the surrounding skin red, or dry and flaky. Other side effects will depend on which part of your body is treated. There is information about side effects of radiotherapy in the radiotherapy section.

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Updated: 3 July 2012