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External radiotherapy treatment for cervical cancer

Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to treat cervical cancer cells.

Radiotherapy machines are very big. They rotate around you to give you your treatment. The machine doesn't touch you at any point.

Before you start your course of treatment your therapy radiographers Open a glossary item explain what you will see and hear. In some departments the treatment rooms have docks for you to plug in your music player. So you can listen to your own music.

Photo of a linear accelerator

Before your treatment

Before each treatment you might be asked to drink a certain amount of water. This is so your bladder is roughly the same size every day. If you need to do this then the procedure will be carefully explained to you when you have your planning scan.

You might also be asked to empty your bowels before each treatment. Not everyone has to do this.

The radiographers help you to lie in the same position on the couch as when you had your planning scan. You might have a type of firm cushion to help you keep still.

The radiographers darken the room and use bright beams of light to make sure you are in the same position each day. You will hear them saying measurements to each other. They then leave the room but can see you from the control area. They take some x-rays to make sure you are in the correct position and then they start the treatment.

During the treatment

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

Your radiographers watch and listen to you on a CCTV screen in the next room. 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

Tell the radiotherapy department if you prefer treatment at a particular time of day. They can try to arrange this.

Car parking can be difficult at hospitals. It’s worth asking the radiotherapy unit staff:

  • if they can give you a hospital parking permit
  • about discounted parking rates
  • where you can get help with travel fares
  • for tips on free places to park nearby

If you have no other way to get to the hospital, the radiotherapy staff might be able to arrange hospital transport for you. But it might not always be at convenient times. To see if you're eligible they usually work it out based on your earnings or income.

Some hospitals have their own drivers or can arrange ambulances. Some charities offer hospital transport.

Side effects

Radiotherapy for cervical cancer can cause side effects, such as diarrhoea and bladder inflammation.

Let the radiographers know if you have any problems or side effects so they can give you advice or arrange for you to see a doctor.