Having radiotherapy with a pacemaker or ICD

You should be able to have radiotherapy if you have a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). But a nurse or trained radiographer (sometimes called a radiotherapist) might monitor the pacemaker before, during and after treatment if your pacemaker is directly in the radiotherapy field. 

This is most likely to be for people who have cancer of the lung or breast. 

Pacemakers and radiotherapy

Even if your pacemaker is not in the field of the radiotherapy dose, radiotherapy can interfere with how your pacemaker works.

The radiation can cause chemical changes in the structure of the pacemaker and electrical energy disturbances during the treatment. It depends on the type and model of your pacemaker and the dose of radiotherapy you are going to have.

So, if you have a pacemaker, your treatment team will monitor you very carefully during your treatment. Some types of pacemaker can be controlled remotely by a specialist from your heart (cardiology) team during the treatment.

When you finish your radiotherapy, your heart specialist will continue to keep a close eye on you.

Planning your treatment

Before you begin treatment your cancer doctor will talk to your heart specialist.

They will get a detailed history of why you have a pacemaker and the type of pacemaker you have. 

Many different specialists are involved in radiotherapy treatment. The two people most involved in planning your radiotherapy are the radiotherapy doctor (clinical oncologist) and the physicist.

The physicist helps the radiotherapy doctor decide:

  • the best way of delivering the amount of radiation prescribed
  • the exposure you should have to a particular radiotherapy machine to get the dose you need

They also make sure the radiotherapy equipment is accurate and safe.

Both these specialists are very aware of the precautions necessary for someone who has a pacemaker. They will plan your radiotherapy to limit the amount of radiation your pacemaker is exposed to during your treatment.

Further information

Our general organisations page gives details of people who can provide information and support.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

You can also phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Last reviewed: 
06 Nov 2020
Next review due: 
06 Nov 2023
  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley Blackwell, 2015

  • Radiotherapy in patients with pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators: a literature review 
    T Zaremba and others,
    EP Europace, 2016. Vol 18, Issue 4, Pages 479-491
     

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