Having external radiotherapy for womb cancer

External radiotherapy usually uses high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.

Radiotherapy for womb cancer

Many women have radiotherapy after surgery for womb cancer.

You might have radiotherapy as your main treatment if you can't have surgery. This might be because you are not fit enough for an operation for example.

Doctors also use radiotherapy to treat womb cancer that has come back in the pelvic area. And to help relieve symptoms in women with cancer that has spread to other areas of the body (advanced cancer).

You have radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department, usually as an outpatient. You have the treatment in short sessions (called fractions) each day from Monday to Friday. You don’t have treatment at weekends.

Generally, a course of radiotherapy lasts 4 to 5 weeks.

Planning your treatment

The radiotherapy team plan your external radiotherapy before you start treatment. This means working out the dose of radiotherapy you need and exactly where you need it.

Your planning appointment takes from 15 minutes to 2 hours.

You usually have a planning CT scan in the radiotherapy department.

The scan shows the cancer and the area around it. You might have other types of scans or x-rays to help your treatment team plan your radiotherapy. The plan they create is just for you.

Photo of a CT scanner

You usually get a bowel and bladder prep sheet a few weeks before your scan. This explains how you can help prepare your bladder and bowels for the planning scan and treatment. Following this advice can help reduce long term side effects to your bladder and bowels.

Your radiographer will explain how to prep your bladder and bowels. They will check you have emptied your bowels that day and ask you to empty your bladder. They will then explain how you can fill your bladder by drinking water. You will have to also do this before every treatment.

If your bladder is not full enough, or your bowels aren't empty enough, the scan may need to be repeated.

Your radiographers tell you what is going to happen. They help you into position on the scan couch. You might have a type of firm cushion called a vacbag to help you keep still.

The CT scanner couch is the same type of bed that you lie on for your treatment sessions. You need to lie very still. Tell your radiographers if you aren't comfortable.

Injection of dye

You might need an injection of contrast into a vein in your hand. This is a dye that helps body tissues show up more clearly on the scan.

Before you have the contrast, your radiographer asks you about any medical conditions or allergies. Some people are allergic to the contrast.

Having the scan

Once you are in position your radiographers put some markers on your skin. They move the couch up and through the scanner. They then leave the room and the scan starts.

The scan takes about 5 minutes. You won't feel anything. Your radiographers can see and hear you from the CT control area where they operate the scanner. 

Ink and tattoo marks

The radiographers make pin point sized tattoo marks on your skin. They use these marks to line you up into the same position every day. The tattoos make sure they treat exactly the same area for all of your treatments. They may also draw marks around the tattoos with a permanent ink pen, so that they are clear to see when the lights are low.

Photograph of radiotherapy tattoo marks

The radiotherapy staff tell you how to look after the markings. The pen marks might start to rub off in time, but the tattoos won’t. Tell your radiographer if that happens. Don't try to redraw them yourself. 

After your planning session

You might have to wait a few days or up to 3 weeks before you start treatment.

During this time the physicists and your radiographer doctor (clinical oncologist) decide the final details of your radiotherapy plan. They make sure that the area of the cancer will receive a high dose and nearby areas receive a low dose. This reduces the side effects you might get during and after treatment. 

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. 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.

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. This depends 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. Ask the radiotherapy staff if you are able to get free parking or 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 womb cancer can cause diarrhoea and sickness. Your vagina may become sore and 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: 
04 Feb 2022
Next review due: 
10 Feb 2024
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