Radiotherapy for advanced cervical cancer

You might have radiotherapy as a treatment for cervical cancer that has spread to another part of the body. How you have the treatment depends on the part of the body that is affected.

What is radiotherapy

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

Radiotherapy can shrink the cancer, relieve symptoms, and help you feel more comfortable.

When you have it

When you have radiotherapy to control symptoms, you usually only have a short course. You might only have one or two treatments and you would very rarely have more than 10. 

You have the radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department, usually as an outpatient. Some hospitals have rooms nearby that you can stay in if you have a long way to travel. 

You go to the radiotherapy department from your ward if you’re already in hospital.

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

Before your treatment

Your radiographers help you get into position on the treatment couch. You might have a type of firm cushion to help you keep still.

The room is darkened and the radiographers line you up in the radiotherapy machine using laser lights. You will hear them saying measurements to each other to get you in the right position. 

Then they leave you alone in the room for a few minutes.

During the treatment

You need to lie very still. The machine makes whirring and beeping sounds. You can't feel the radiotherapy when you have the treatment. 

Your radiographers watch and listen to you on a CCTV screen in the next room. You can raise your hand to let them know if you need to move or want the machine to stop.

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

Radiotherapy can make you feel very tired. Depending on the part of the body being treated you might also have diarrhoea, sickness (vomiting) or other side effects.

Last reviewed: 
24 Apr 2020
Next review due: 
23 Apr 2023
  • Cervical cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up

    N. Colombo and others

    Annals of Oncology (2012) 23 (supplement 7): vii27-vii32

  • Improving supportive and palliative care for adults with cancer 
    National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), 2004

  • External Beam Therapy
    Peter Hoskin
    Oxford University Press, 2012

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