What are the side effects of radiotherapy treatment?

These depend on many factors for example, what part of the body is being treated, each individual receiving treatment, the amount of radiation dose being prescribed, what type of radiotherapy (internal/ external, photons/electrons/protons). Some experience side effects early on and others not until the end of their course or even after it has finished. The side effects will be discussed in detail by the treatment team but these are a guide, patients’ may experience, some, all or none, we are all different.

What causes side effects of radiotherapy treatment?

Side effects occur when healthy tissue is damaged by the radiation, this causes local inflammation, the body’s defense reaction. When targeting diseased / tumour cells it is impossible not to cause some damage to surrounding healthy tissue

Does radiotherapy treatment hurt?

There is nothing to see or feel during the treatment. It’s very similar to having an X-Ray or CT scan taken.  There is a buzzing noise from the machine and patients may wish to have music played to help relax them.

How long does radiotherapy treatment take?

Treatments usually last around 10-30 minutes, the length of the treatment will depend on the body area to be treated and the type and the complexity of the treatment.

How will radiotherapy treatment affect my day-to-day life?

Treatment can cause specific side effects depending on the area of the body being treated these will be discussed with the patient individually. Treatment can also cause tiredness and this is irrespective of site so patients may find they need more time to do everyday things. It is good for your well-being if you can continue regular routines and life as normal.

Can my friends and family come with me?

You should assume that friends and family can attend with you for any consultations as well as treatment as any support is usually welcome. However, they will probably not be able to come into the room where the actual radiotherapy treatment takes place.

What kind of clothes should I wear?

You should be able to wear anything you feel comfortable in but please bear in mind that any clothes that cover the area that is to be treated will need to be removed.

Is there any risk to my family during or after radiotherapy treatment?

There is no risk to family and friends when receiving external radiotherapy. However, if patients are receiving internal radioactive material check with the treatment team as this can vary depending on whether they are implants that are removed or radioactive liquids or markers. The treatment team will advise patients on their specific situations and what to do.

Am I alone during radiotherapy treatment?

Patients are alone during treatment; however the radiographers can see, hear and usually speak to you.

Questions for your treatment team prior to treatment

Can you please explain how the radiotherapy works i.e. how does it attack the cancer and why is it the best option for my type of cancer?

What are the benefits of the treatment you are advising me to have?

What are the success rates for this treatment – nationally and for this hospital?

Will radiotherapy cure my cancer or relieve the symptoms?

Am I having external or internal radiotherapy and can you please explain why?

What are the risks, if any, of this treatment?

What are the risks if I decide not to have this treatment?

Is there an alternative treatment?

Actual treatment

How long will each individual treatment take, how many will I need per week and for how many weeks (i.e. how many treatments will I need in total?)

What will the treatment be like and how long will it take?

Can you explain exactly what will happen before and during treatment?

Is the treatment area going to be marked on my skin with ink? (i.e. should I wear ‘old’ clothes)

After treatment

How will I feel immediately after treatment?

What are the side effects of the radiotherapy treatment I am having? Is there anything I can do to alleviate/avoid them?

How will my doctor know if my treatment has worked?


What kind of clothes should I wear?

Will I need to stay in the hospital?

How will treatment affect my life e.g. regular activities, driving, relationships, exercise, and diet?

Will I need to take any special precautions e.g. stay out of the sun

When will I need follow-up appointments and for how long?

Who should I contact if I have questions or concerns, during my treatment or once my treatment has finished?