Decorative image

Radiotherapy treatment

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

Radiotherapy uses high energy waves similar to x-rays to kill cancer cells.

You have external radiotherapy in a hospital radiotherapy department. You usually have it as an outpatient each weekday over 4 to 6 weeks.

Some hospitals have rooms near the hospital you can stay in if you have a long way to travel.

You go to the radiotherapy department from your ward if you’re 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 each treatment session

The radiographers help you to get into position on the treatment couch. They fit your mask if you need one to keep you still during the treatment session.

They line up the radiotherapy machine, using marks on the mask or 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.

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 and tell them 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.

Side effects of treatment

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

Last reviewed: 
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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