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Radiotherapy treatment

Information about what happens when you have external radiotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma.

Why you have radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to treat 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 and 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. 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 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

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 on your back. 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

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

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: 
08 Feb 2018
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    The Lancet, 2012. Volume 380, Issue 9844

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