Having external radiotherapy for Neuroendocrine tumours (NETs)

Radiotherapy means the use of radiation, usually x-rays, to treat cancer cells. You might have external radiotherapy for a neuroendocrine tumour (NET) that has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones or brain. It can control the pain and help you feel better.  

External radiotherapy is also called external beam 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 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

During the treatment

To have treatment you lie on the treatment couch. You wear a mask to keep your head still if you’re having radiotherapy to the brain. Your radiographer leaves the room before the treatment starts.

You need to lie very still. The machine makes whirring and beeping sounds. You can't feel the radiotherapy while you are having the treatment. 

Your radiographers watch and listen to you on a CCTV screen in the next room. Let them know if you need to move or want the machine to stop.

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, depending 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. You can ask the radiotherapy staff if they can give you a hospital parking permit for free parking or advice on 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

You are most likely to have radiotherapy to help control the symptoms of a NET. The dose you need for this is low, so you are unlikely to have many side effects. 

The side effects you have depend on which part of the body is treated. Side effects might include:

  • feeling tired (fatigue)
  • hair loss if you have radiotherapy to the brain
  • red skin in the treatment area that may feel sore
  • feeling or being sick
  • diarrhoea

Let your radiographers know if you have any problems or side effects. They can give you advice or arrange for you to see a doctor.

Coping

Treatment for neuroendocrine tumours can be difficult to cope with for some people. Your nurse will give you phone numbers to call if you have any problems at home. 

If you have any questions about treatment, you can talk to Cancer Research UK’s information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
23 Mar 2021
Next review due: 
22 Mar 2024
  • Gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    M. Pavel and others
    Annals of Oncology 2020, Vol 31, Issue 5 

  • Guidelines for the management of gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (including carcinoid) tumours (NETs)
    J Ramage and others
    Gut, 2012. Vol 61, Pages 6-32

  • External Beam Radiotherapy in the Treatment of Gastroenteropancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumours: A Systematic Review
    DL Chan and others
    Clinical Oncology, 2018. Vol 30, Pages 400-408

  • Radiation Therapy in the Management of Patients with Malignant Carcinoid Tumors
    A Chakravarthy and RA Abrams 
    Cancer, 1995. Vol 75, Number 6, Pages 1386-1390

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