Having radiotherapy for advanced bladder cancer

Radiotherapy uses radiation, usually x-rays, to destroy cancer cells.

When do you have it?

Your doctor might suggest radiotherapy if advanced bladder cancer is causing symptoms. For example, if you have pain from cancer that has spread to the bones. Radiotherapy can work very well in this situation.

Radiotherapy will not cure your cancer but it can improve the quality of your life. It can help to keep the cancer under control in the area of the body that has been treated.

How you have it

You have radiotherapy treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department. You often only have one treatment session. But some people have a few treatment sessions.

The radiotherapy room

Radiotherapy machines are very big and could make you feel nervous when you see them for the first time. The machine might be fixed in one position or able to rotate around your body to give treatment from different directions. The machine doesn't touch you at any point.

Before your first treatment, your therapy radiographers Open a glossary item will explain what you will 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 while you have treatment.

Photo of a linear accelerator

During the treatment

You need to lie very still on your back. Your radiographers might take images (x-rays or scans) before your treatment to make sure that you're in the right position. The machine makes whirring and beeping sounds. You won’t feel anything when you have the treatment.

Your radiographers can see and hear you on a CCTV screen in the next room. They can talk to you over an intercom and might ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths at times. You can also talk to them through the intercom or raise your hand if you need to stop or if you're uncomfortable.

You won't be radioactive

This type of radiotherapy won't make you radioactive. It's safe to be around other people, including pregnant women and children.

Travelling to radiotherapy appointments

You might have to travel a long way each day for your radiotherapy, depending on where your nearest cancer centre is. This can make you very tired, especially if you have side effects from the treatment.

You can ask the therapy radiographers Open a glossary item for an appointment time to suit you. They will do their best, but some departments might be very busy. Some radiotherapy departments are open from 7am till 9pm.

Car parking can be difficult at hospitals. You can ask the radiotherapy staff if they can give you a hospital parking permit for free parking or advice on discounted parking. They may be able to give you tips on free places to park nearby.

The radiotherapy staff may be able to arrange transport if you have no other way to get to the hospital. Your radiotherapy doctor would have to agree. This is because it is only for people that would struggle using public transport and have no access to a car. 

Some people are able to claim back a refund for healthcare travel costs. This is based on the type of appointment and whether you claim certain benefits. Ask the radiotherapy staff for more information about this.

Some hospitals have their own drivers and local charities might offer hospital transport. So do ask if any help is available in your area.

Side effects

Side effects from radiotherapy depend on which part of the body is being treated. So it is difficult to say what side effects you might have.

When you have radiotherapy to treat symptoms, doctors try to keep the side effects down to a minimum. You may not have many side effects if you are having one treatment, or a short course.

If you had radiotherapy to your bladder and pelvis when you were first treated, then you will probably not be able to have any more to that area. This is because there is a limit to the amount of radiation any part of the body can have. But you can have radiotherapy to another part of the body if needed.

Cancer Research UK nurses

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
28 Jun 2019
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    B Anderson
    British Journal of Nursing, 2018. Volume 27, Number 18, Pages 8 - 20

  • Bladder cancer: diagnosis and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), February 2015

  • MDT Guidance for Managing Bladder Cancer (2nd Edition)
    British Uro-oncology Group (BUG) (2013)

  • EAU Guidelines on Muscle-invasive and Metastatic Bladder Cancer
    J A Witjes and others
    European Association of Urology, 2017

  • Bladder cancer: ESMO Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    J Bellmunt and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2014. Volume 25, Issue 3, Pages 40-48

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

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