Having radiotherapy for small cell lung cancer
Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to destroy lung cancer cells. You have the treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department.
When you might have radiotherapy?
Limited stage disease
You might have radiotherapy with chemotherapy if your cancer is only in one side of your lung. This is called concurrent chemoradiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy.
You usually have the radiotherapy during the first two cycles of chemotherapy.
Radiotherapy can also be given after chemotherapy if you are not well enough to have chemoradiotherapy but your cancer has responded to chemotherapy. This is called sequential radiotherapy.
You might have radiotherapy:
- each day for up to 7 weeks (with a break at weekends)
- twice a day for 3 weeks
Extensive stage disease
Extensive disease means the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.
You might have radiotherapy to the chest (thorax) if your cancer responded to chemotherapy.
You might also have radiotherapy to control your lung cancer for some time and to relieve symptoms. This is called palliative radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy to the brain
Small cell lung cancer can spread to the brain. Your doctor might suggest that you have radiotherapy to the brain to reduce the risk of cancer spreading there. This is called prophylactic cranial irradiation.
You usually have radiotherapy to the brain if your cancer has responded to chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
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
Before each treatment session
The radiographers help you to get onto the treatment couch. You might need to raise your arms over your head.
The radiographers line up the radiotherapy machine using the marks on your body. Once you are in the right position, they leave the room.
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.
Dan (radiographer): Before your treatment starts your doctor will need to work out exactly where the treatment needs to go and also which parts need to be avoided by the treatment. To have radiotherapy you lie in the same position as you did for your planning scans. We then line up the machine based on your tattoo marks. It is really important that you stay very, very still when you are having treatment it is also important to let the radiographers know right at the beginning if you are not comfortable so they can adjust your position
Radiographer: Ok all done, we’ll be back in a couple of minutes
Dan (radiographer): We leave the room and control the room from a separate room This is so we aren’t exposed to radiation. Treatment takes a few minutes and you will be able to talk to us using an intercom. We can see and hear you while you are having your treatment and will check that you are ok. When your treatment starts you won’t feel anything; you may hear the machine as it moves around you giving the treatment from different angles. Because we are aiming to give the same treatment to the same part of the body everyday then the treatment process is exactly the same everyday so you shouldn’t notice any difference. You’ll see someone from the team caring for you once a week while you are having treatment they’ll ask how you are and about any side effects.
Patient: They get you from one sitting area to another and then take you into the room where you undress to the waist and then lie down and line you up by either moving you or asking you to shuffle a little and they check the dimensions and they talk to one another and they say I am fine this side how are you ...yes fine...ok, stay where you are Jeff and that was it. There were a few little clicks and lights go on and off and you can see a green laser beam which line sup with certain things on your body uh so no, no real noise and no discomfort.
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
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. It is only for people who would struggle to use 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.
Radiotherapy to the lung can cause side effects. Find out what they are and how to cope with them.