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Planning radiotherapy

Find out what happens at your radiotherapy planning appointment for advanced gallbladder cancer.

Radiotherapy for advanced gallbladder cancer

You may have radiotherapy if it isn’t possible to completely remove your cancer with surgery, because it has spread too far. The treatment will not cure the cancer, but it may help to shrink it or slow it down. 

Doctors are not completely sure how much this treatment helps. We need results from more clinical trials before we know how useful it is. You are likely to have radiotherapy combined with chemotherapy.

Radiotherapy to relieve gallbladder cancer symptoms

You may have radiotherapy to relieve the symptoms of advanced gallbladder cancer. You may hear this being called palliative radiotherapy.

Your cancer may be blocking your bile duct, causing jaundice or pressing on nerves, causing pain. The treatment can shrink the cancer for a time and relieve symptoms. You usually have this type of treatment daily, as a short course over a few days.

Planning your treatment

The radiotherapy team plan your external beam radiotherapy before you start treatment. This means working out the dose of radiotherapy you need and exactly where you need it.

Your planning appointment takes from 15 minutes to 2 hours.

You usually have a planning CT scan in the radiotherapy department.

The scan shows the cancer and the area around it. You might have other types of scans or x-rays to help your treatment team plan your radiotherapy. The plan they create is just for you.

Photo of a CT scanner

Your radiographers tell you what is going to happen. They help you into position on the scan couch. You might have a type of firm cushion called a vacbag to help you keep still.

The CT scanner couch is the same type of bed that you lie on for your treatment sessions. You need to lie very still. Tell your radiographers if you aren't comfortable.

Injection of dye

You might need an injection of contrast into a vein in your hand. This is a dye that helps body tissues show up more clearly on the scan.

Before you have the contrast, your radiographer asks you about any medical conditions or allergies. Some people are allergic to the contrast.

Having the scan

Once you are in position your radiographers put some markers on your skin. They move the couch up and through the scanner. They then leave the room and the scan starts.

The scan takes about 5 minutes. You won't feel anything. Your radiographers can see and hear you from the CT control area where they operate the scanner. 

Ink and tattoo marks

The radiographers make pin point sized tattoo marks on your skin. They use these marks to line you up into the same position every day. The tattoos make sure they treat exactly the same area for all of your treatments. They may also draw marks around the tattoos with a permanent ink pen, so that they are clear to see when the lights are low.

Radiotherapy tattoo marks
Radiotherapy treatment area marks.

The radiotherapy staff tell you how to look after the markings. The pen marks might start to rub off in time, but the tattoos won’t. Tell your radiographer if that happens. Don't try to redraw them yourself. 

Before you go into hospital

It’s worth sorting out a few things before you go into hospital. These might include:

  • work
  • care for children or other loved ones
  • care for your pets
  • care for your house
  • cancelling your milk or newspapers

After your planning session

It can take a few days or up to 3 weeks before you start treatment.

Your radiographers and doctors create your radiotherapy plan. They make sure that the area of the cancer will receive a high dose and nearby areas receive a low dose. This reduces the side effects you might get during and after treatment. 

Last reviewed: 
26 Oct 2017
  • External Beam Therapy
    Peter Hoskin
    Oxford University Press, 2012

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