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Radiotherapy treatment for advanced cancer

Find out about what happens when you have radiotherapy for advanced oesophageal cancer.

Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to treat cancer cells.

Radiotherapy can shrink the cancer, relieve symptoms, and help you feel more comfortable.

You have external radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department, usually as an outpatient.

You might have one treatment a day for a few days, or you may have a few treatments with a few days break between each.

Some hospitals have rooms nearby that you can stay in if you have a long way to travel. 

You go to the radiotherapy department from your ward if you are already in hospital. 

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 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

Before treatment

The radiographers help you to get into position on the treatment couch.

They line up the radiotherapy machine, using marks on your skin.

You might need to raise your arms above your head.

Then the radiographers leave you alone in the room for a few minutes.

Having treatment

You need to lie very still. You can't feel the radiotherapy when you have the treatment. The machine makes noises that you can hear, like whirring or beeping sounds.  

The radiographers watch you on a closed circuit television screen. They might ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths at times. They are in the next room and can hear you. So you can tell them if you need to move or need 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

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

Radiotherapy to the oesophagus can make you tired and make your mouth and throat sore. You may also have difficulty eating.

05 May 2016
  • Guidelines for the management of oesophageal and gastric cancer. British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), 2011.

  • Management of oesophageal and gastric cancer. A national clinical guideline. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, 2006.

  • National Oesophago Gastric Cancer Audit. NHS Information Centre, Annual Reports 2010, 2012 and 2013.

  • Oesophageal cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up. M Stahl, C Mariette, K Haustermans and others. Annals of Oncology. 2013. 24 (supplement 6) vi51-vi56.

  • Recent developments in esophageal adenocarcinoma. J Lagergren and P Lagergren. Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2013. 62: 232-248.

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