Who gives radiotherapy?

Many different health care professionals work together to deliver radiotherapy treatment. This includes doctors and therapeutic radiographers.  

Specialist radiotherapy doctors

In the UK, doctors who specialise in treating cancer with radiotherapy, simple chemotherapy and other drug treatments are called clinical oncologists.

In some other countries, such as the USA, they are called radiation oncologists.

The radiotherapy care team

Your clinical oncologist works as part of a multi disciplinary team (MDT) with other health professionals who are specialists in cancer treatment and care. This MDT may include:

  • a surgeon
  • a doctor specialising in cancer drug treatment (a medical oncologist)
  • paediatric oncologist for children
  • therapeutic radiographers - they plan and deliver radiotherapy to people with cancer
  • doctors who specialise in taking and reading x-rays and scans (radiologists)
  • doctors who look at body tissues to diagnose illness (pathologists)
  • specialist nurses
  • physiotherapists
  • dietitians
  • speech and language therapists
  • other health care staff such as occupational therapists or social workers

While you are having radiotherapy you are in the care of a clinical oncologist. Your oncologist will approve your radiotherapy plan, and prescribe and supervise your treatment. You see them, or a member of their team, regularly throughout your treatment. 

Between the appointments with your specialist, you may see a specialist nurse or radiographer. One member of the team will be your key worker (main supporter) and you can contact them for information if you need it.

You might still see your own GP during and after your radiotherapy. It is important to let your GP know you are having radiotherapy.

Specialists in radiation science

The medical team that prescribes and plans your radiotherapy work together with specialist scientists called medical physicists, dosimetrists or clinical scientists.

Medical physicists advise on the best way of giving the amount of radiation prescribed and how long you need treatment from a particular radiotherapy machine to get the right dose. They also help to make sure the radiotherapy equipment is accurate and safe. 

Your individual radiotherapy plan might be created by a physicist or a radiographer specialised in planning. 

You might not meet any of these people working behind the scenes. But you could meet the physicist if you have internal radiotherapy.

Therapeutic radiographers

Therapeutic radiographers operate the machines that give you your treatment. They are trained in radiotherapy and patient care, and work with the oncologist and physicist to plan and deliver your treatment.

Radiotherapy departments try to make sure you have some of the same radiographers throughout your treatment so you get to know each other. They can give you help and advice about your treatment and arrange for you to see a doctor.

You can ask them anything you are worried or anxious about. They can give you advice on coping with any side effects.

Photo of a radiographer and a patient about to have radiotherapy

Nursing staff

The radiotherapy clinic may also have nursing staff, usually a charge nurse (or sister) and a team of nurses. They look after your general needs, such as:

  • dressings
  • medicines
  • information about coping with side effects

They also give you advice and practical support.

Social workers

Social workers can advise about any problems you may have with:

  • practical matters
  • money issues
  • getting counselling and emotional support for you and your family

They may refer you to local agencies who can help you at home. Some people can claim travelling expenses. Others may apply for a grant from a charity.

Other radiotherapy staff

Many hospitals have a symptom control team.

They give help and support to people whose symptoms or treatment are causing problems.

They also link up with nurses who can continue to see you at home.

  • Radiotherapy Services in England 2012
    Department of Health, November 2012

  • Devita, Hellman and Rosenberg's Cancer Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)
    VT Devita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2019. 

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley Blackwell, 2015

Last reviewed: 
06 Nov 2020
Next review due: 
06 Nov 2023

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