Radiotherapy uses radiation, usually x-rays, to destroy 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.
When you might have it
Surgery is usually the main treatment for penile cancer. You might have radiotherapy for the following reasons:
- instead of surgery if you are unable to have, or do not want to have, an operation
- instead of surgery to lymph nodes in the groin
- after surgery if there is a risk that cancer cells are left in the groin
- to treat the lymph nodes in the pelvis if there is a high risk of the cancer coming back
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy together (chemoradiotherapy) have been used in research studies, but further studies are necessary.
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
Before each treatment session
The radiographers help you to get into position on the treatment couch. You might have wax or plastic box put on to your penis to hold it away from your body during treatment. It helps to make sure that:
- your penis doesn't move during threatment
- the correct amount of radiotherapy reaches the target area
They line up the radiotherapy machine. They use the marks on your skin to help, if you have them from your radiotherapy planning. 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 or raise your hand if you need to stop or if you're uncomfortable.
The following is a video about radiotherapy for cancer in general.
Dan (radiographer): Before your treatment starts your doctor will need to work out exactly where the treatment needs to go and also which parts need to be avoided by the treatment. To have radiotherapy you lie in the same position as you did for your planning scans. We then line up the machine based on your tattoo marks. It is really important that you stay very, very still when you are having treatment it is also important to let the radiographers know right at the beginning if you are not comfortable so they can adjust your position
Radiographer: Ok all done, we’ll be back in a couple of minutes
Dan (radiographer): We leave the room and control the room from a separate room This is so we aren’t exposed to radiation. Treatment takes a few minutes and you will be able to talk to us using an intercom. We can see and hear you while you are having your treatment and will check that you are ok. When your treatment starts you won’t feel anything; you may hear the machine as it moves around you giving the treatment from different angles. Because we are aiming to give the same treatment to the same part of the body everyday then the treatment process is exactly the same everyday so you shouldn’t notice any difference. You’ll see someone from the team caring for you once a week while you are having treatment they’ll ask how you are and about any side effects.
Patient: They get you from one sitting area to another and then take you into the room where you undress to the waist and then lie down and line you up by either moving you or asking you to shuffle a little and they check the dimensions and they talk to one another and they say I am fine this side how are you ...yes fine...ok, stay where you are Jeff and that was it. There were a few little clicks and lights go on and off and you can see a green laser beam which lines up with certain things on your body uh so no, no real noise and no discomfort .
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
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 of treatment
Radiotherapy to the penis can make you tired. Your penis may become swollen and may become sore.