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Radiotherapy for melanoma

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. You may have radiotherapy for advanced melanoma, to shrink melanoma tumours and help control symptoms. Some people have it as a treatment after surgery, to try to lower the chance of the melanoma coming back but this is not common.

Having radiotherapy

You usually have treatment once a day from Monday to Friday, with a rest over the weekend. This may go on for several weeks. For advanced cancer, the course of radiotherapy may be shorter.

Radiotherapy is carefully planned. On your first visit, you lie under a specialised CT scanning machine. The doctor uses the machine to work out exactly where to give the treatment. They will make ink marks on your skin. These marks will be used to line up the radiotherapy machine every day when you have treatment.

The actual treatment only takes a few minutes. You will not be able to feel it. This type of radiotherapy does not make you radioactive.

Side effects

The side effects will vary depending on where in the body you are having treatment. Radiotherapy just to the skin does not have very many side effects. The skin may become slightly red and sore. 

 

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What radiotherapy is and why you may have it

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells. You may have radiotherapy for advanced melanoma to shrink melanoma tumours and help to control symptoms. Some people have it as a treatment after surgery to remove the melanoma, to try to lower the chance of the melanoma coming back but this is not common. 

 

How you have radiotherapy

You have radiotherapy treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department. For advanced melanoma you may have a single treatment or a few treatments. For radiotherapy after surgery you may have a course of five treatments a week for a number of weeks. You usually have the treatment once a day from Monday to Friday with a rest over the weekend. The amount of treatment you have depends on

  • Whether you are also having other types of cancer treatment
  • The part of the body being treated
 

Planning your treatment

Radiotherapy treatment is carefully planned. On your first visit, you lie under a specialised CT scanning machine.

Patient having treatment

The doctor uses the machine to work out where to give the treatment to kill the most cancer cells and miss as much healthy body tissue as possible.

The radiotherapy staff will make ink marks on your skin during the planning session. These marks are used to line up the radiotherapy machine every day when you have your treatment. So it is important not to wash them off. Your radiotherapy department may use a tiny pinprick tattoo instead of the ink marks. This is permanent, but is so small you can hardly see it.

 

Having your treatment

The actual treatment only takes a few minutes. The radiographer will position you on the couch and make sure you are comfortable. You will be left alone while you have your treatment, but the radiographer will be able to hear and see you.

Radiotherapy doesn't hurt. You will not be able to feel it. But you will have to lie very still for a few minutes during the treatment.

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 vary depending on which part of your body is treated. Look at the radiotherapy section for information about radiotherapy and its side effects. Radiotherapy just to the skin does not have very many side effects. The skin may become slightly red and sore during the treatment period, like a mild to moderate sun burn. This begins to disappear a week or two after the treatment is over. 

If you have radiotherapy to a part of the body which has hair, you will have some hair loss. The hair will start to grow back some time after treatment has finished. But the regrowth may be patchy.

 

Where to find more information about radiotherapy

Look at the radiotherapy section for general information, including

Look at our general cancer organisations page for suggestions for organisations who can give you more information about radiotherapy. Our melanoma organisations page has information about where you can get support when you have treatment for melanoma.

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Updated: 23 January 2014