External radiotherapy treatment for cervical cancer

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

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

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

You might have to travel a long way each day for your radiotherapy. This depends 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. Ask the radiotherapy staff if you are able to get free parking or 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 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.

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