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External radiotherapy

What to expect when you have 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.

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 your treatment

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 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.

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

Tell the radiotherapy department if you prefer treatment at a particular time of day. They can try to arrange this.

Car parking can be difficult at hospitals. It’s worth asking the radiotherapy unit staff:

  • if they can give you a hospital parking permit
  • about discounted parking rates
  • where you can get help with travel fares
  • for tips on free places to park nearby

If you have no other way to get to the hospital, the radiotherapy staff might be able to arrange hospital transport for you. But it might not always be at convenient times. To see if you're eligible they usually work it out based on your earnings or income.

Some hospitals have their own drivers or can arrange ambulances. Some charities offer hospital transport.

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: 
22 Sep 2017
  • ESMO-ESGO-ESTRO Consensus Conference on Endometrial Cancer: diagnosis, treatment and follow-up

    N Columbo and others (2016) 

    Annals of Oncology 27: 16–41

  • Principles and practice of oncology (9th edition)
    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

  • Advances in radiotherapy
    SS Ahmad, S Duke, R Jena and others
    British Medical Journal, 2012, Vol 345

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