About radiotherapy for nasal and sinus cancer

You might have radiotherapy as part of your treatment for nasal and paranasal sinus cancer.

What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to treat cancer cells. You usually have the treatment for a short time each weekday for a few weeks. The radiation is targeted specifically at the area of cancer from a large radiotherapy machine.

Radiotherapy for nasal and paranasal sinus cancer

For nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers, you may have:

Radiotherapy on its own

Radiotherapy may be the first choice of treatment for some types of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers. It can cure many people with early stage cancers. Whether this type of treatment is suitable for you will depend on:

  • which type of cancer you have
  • the size of the cancer
  • how far it has grown into the surrounding tissues
  • exactly where the cancer is

There are different types of external radiotherapy. You usually have a type of radiotherapy called intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) for nasal or paranasal cancer. This treatment directs a precisely targeted dose of radiation to the area of the tumour from outside the body. 

Proton beam radiotherapy

Proton beam radiotherapy is sometimes used for very rare sinus cancers or where the radiotherapy treatment needs to be given to an area called the skull base. Your specialist doctor will refer you for this specialised type of radiotherapy if they think it is the best treatment for you.

Radiotherapy with chemotherapy

You may have radiotherapy and chemotherapy together (chemoradiotherapy) for some types of nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers.

Radiotherapy after surgery

Radiotherapy after surgery is called adjuvant therapy. It helps to stop your cancer from coming back. Doctors use radiotherapy after surgery for a number of different reasons. You may have it because:

  • the tumour was difficult to remove
  • your surgeon thinks there may be cancer cells left behind
  • the tumour had spread locally into nearby structures
  • cancer cells were found in your lymph nodes

You usually have treatment every day, Monday to Friday, for between 4 and 7 weeks. You have up to 35 separate treatments called fractions. Breaking the treatment down into a series of smaller treatments helps to keep side effects under control.

If you add up all the radiation doses you have in the fractions, the total will be the complete dose of radiation your specialist has prescribed for you.

Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms

Radiotherapy can relieve symptoms in advanced nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers. This is also called palliative radiotherapy. 

Your cancer may be causing difficulty in swallowing or breathing. Some nasal cavity and paranasal sinus cancers are close to the brain, so they can grow and put pressure on the brain. Radiotherapy can help to relieve this pressure. 

The treatment relieves symptoms by shrinking the cancer. The cancer may grow back, but it could take a while to do so. No one can say how long, but the radiotherapy could relieve your symptoms for some time. 

Radiotherapy can also help to relieve pain and control any bleeding. To control symptoms, you are most likely to have a short course of treatment over a few days.

If you smoke

If you smoke your doctor will advise you to give up. Radiotherapy might not work as well and you may have more side effects if you continue to smoke. Stopping smoking can be very difficult, especially when you are going through a stressful time. You can talk to your doctor or nurse about support to help you stop smoking.

You can also read our information about how to stop.

Planning treatment

Before you have radiotherapy you have a session to plan the treatment. 

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