Radiotherapy treatment

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells.

You might have radiotherapy to a small area if you have limited (early) stage Hodgkin lymphoma. Limited stage generally means that you have stage 1 or 2A Hodgkin lymphoma. 

You might have radiotherapy to shrink large lymph nodes if you have advanced Hodgkin lymphoma. Advanced disease is usually stage 2B, 3 or 4.

Where and when you have radiotherapy

You have radiotherapy treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department. Usually, you have treatment once a day from Monday to Friday with a rest over the weekend. The length of the treatment depends on the area being treated.

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

If you need to wear a mask for your radiotherapy treatment, the radiographers will position the mask over your face and attach it to the table. The mask keeps your head completely still while you have treatment.

During the treatment

You need to lie very still. Your radiographers might take images (x-rays or scans) before your treatment to make sure that you're in the right position. The machine makes whirring and beeping sounds. You won’t feel anything when you have the treatment.

Your radiographers can see and hear you on a CCTV screen in the next room. They can talk to you over an intercom and might ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths at times. You can also talk to them through the intercom or raise your hand if you need to stop or if you're uncomfortable.

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

The most common side effects of radiotherapy during and just after treatment are:

  • reddening of the skin in the treatment area
  • tiredness
  • loss of hair in the treatment area
Last reviewed: 
01 Oct 2020
Next review due: 
01 Oct 2023
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