Having radiotherapy for ovarian cancer

Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to destroy ovarian cancer cells. 

You have radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department. You usually have treatment once a day. The number of treatments you have depends on your situation. 

When do you have radiotherapy?

Doctors don't often use radiotherapy to treat ovarian cancer. The main treatment is surgery, and most women will also have chemotherapy. 

You might have radiotherapy to try and shrink the size of the cancer. And reduce the symptoms of advanced ovarian cancer. This is called palliative radiotherapy. You can have this treatment to any part of the body where the cancer is causing problems.

How you have radiotherapy

You have your radiotherapy treatment in the radiotherapy department at the hospital. You usually have treatment once a day, from Monday to Friday, with a rest over the weekend. For advanced ovarian cancer, you might only have a few radiotherapy treatments. You have these treatments over a few days.

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

Before your treatment

Your radiographers will check you have emptied your bowels. They will let you know when to empty your bladder and start drinking water for your bladder prep.

When you are in the treatment room, your radiographers help you get into position on the treatment couch. They line up the radiotherapy machine, using the marks on your skin.

Then they leave you alone in the room for a few minutes for the treatment. This is so they aren't exposed to radiation. 

During the treatment

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

Your radiographers watch and listen to you on a CCTV screen in the next room. Depending on the type of treatment you are having, it takes a few minutes or up to 15 minutes.

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

Radiotherapy for ovarian cancer can cause diarrhoea and sickness. You may have an irritable bladder (radiation cystitis). Radiotherapy can also cause tiredness.

Side effects usually go within a few weeks of finishing treatment.

Tell your doctor, nurse or radiographer if you have any side effects, as they can give you medicines to help.

Last reviewed: 
19 Jan 2022
Next review due: 
19 Jan 2025
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