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Radiotherapy overview

Radiotherapy is used to treat cancer as well as some non-cancerous conditions and it utilises radiation in the form of high-energy x-rays, known as photons, to damage the cancerous cells and prevent their growth and reproduction. At Rutherford Cancer Centres, we use the most up-to-date linear accelerator, known as a LINAC machine, to deliver radiotherapy treatments. LINAC machines are specially designed to create and shape the high-energy x-rays as they leave the gantry, ensuring the beam is shaped to the tumour for increased treatment efficiency.

When patients attend Rutherford Cancer Centres to start radiotherapy treatment, a CT scan (and possibly an MRI) will need to be carried out. This is to ensure that the radiotherapy team can accurately pinpoint where the cancer cells are located, as well as their exact size and shape. This allows our highly skilled and passionate team of radiographers, physicists and dosimetrists to tailor radiotherapy treatment uniquely to each and every patient. Our team of radiographers work closely together with our consultants to plan and deliver this treatment.

Types of radiotherapy treatment

While there are multiple ways to deliver radiotherapy treatment to patients, at Rutherford Cancer Centres we use only the latest technologies and up-to-date therapies to achieve the best possible treatments.

VMAT, also known as Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT), is a technique which utilises a LINAC machine that can rotate around the patient and adjust the shape of the beam as radiation is delivered to the treatment area. As the beam’s intensity, focus and shape modulate themselves during the treatment, less radiation is delivered to healthy tissue and the treatment delivery is more accurate.

DIBH radiotherapy is a technique used by patients undergoing treatment which involves the patient holding their breath during the treatment session. This allows for a more stable treatment position for areas influenced by breathing motion - around the heart and lungs, for example. DIBH reduces the amount of radiation delivered to surrounding healthy tissue, especially when treating cancer of the breast or chest wall.

If the oncologist suggests DIBH may be suitable for the treatment plan, patients will be invited to a coaching appointment, where they will be introduced to our “Dynr” breathing system and the therapy radiographer will be able to demonstrate the technique.

IGRT is achieved using a variety of systems and is carried out with the use of different scans and x-rays in order to precisely locate cancer in the body. At Rutherford Cancer Centres, we use KV Imaging or Cone Beam CT Imaging to correctly visualise the treatment area and ensure accurate delivery of the radiotherapy treatment.

How does radiotherapy work?

Radiotherapy treatment uses high-energy x-rays, electrons or photons to damage the DNA located within the cancer cells - this destroys the cells' ability to replicate, halting growth and causing the cells to die. Radiotherapy can affect surrounding healthy tissue; however, normal healthy cells are able to repair and recover between treatment sessions and once the treatment has finished. Radiotherapy can also be combined with other treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy, to deliver the best possible outcomes for patients. At Rutherford Cancer Centres, we use the most up-to-date imaging systems and machines to deliver radiotherapy sessions, ensuring only the intended specified area to be treated is accurately targeted, resulting in reduced side effects when compared to other treatment types, such as chemotherapy.

Radiotherapy explained

Radiotherapy explained - Macmillan Cancer Support

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The duration of radiotherapy treatment is dependent on the type of cancer to be treated and the size and shape of the tumour. For some patients, radiotherapy treatment can be delivered in a single session, while others may need to attend sessions daily over a period of several weeks to complete the full course of treatment. Our consultants work with the radiographers to create a personalised treatment plan with an estimated duration as to how long it should take.

Individual daily treatment sessions will depend on the area to be treated and the type of radiotherapy treatment technique used. Usually, day appointments last between 15 minutes to half an hour, with the actual treatment time only taking a few minutes.

Radiotherapy treatment is given for a number of different reasons. Treatment given to cure cancer by destroying the tumour’s DNA and preventing replication of cancer cells is known as ‘curative’ or ‘radical’ radiotherapy. When the cancer cannot be cured, ‘palliative’ radiotherapy treatment is offered in order to shrink the tumour and help relieve patient symptoms and pain.

Radiotherapy treatment may also be used alongside surgery - either before surgery to shrink or control the growth of a tumour or after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells left behind.

Side effects are common with radiotherapy, however, all side effects can be treated and prevented, and most side effects experienced during treatment will pass once the treatment has finished. Side effects expected during treatment often include sensitivity, fatigue, nausea, redness of the skin and hair loss in the area treated, although this does vary from patient to patient.

During radiotherapy sessions, our radiographers closely monitor any side effects experienced by the patient and will provide advice throughout the course of the treatment delivery. Everyone undergoing cancer treatment is different and we offer additional, supportive care to help manage the side effects. Please visit our supportive care page for more information.

Radiotherapy is not a painful treatment and excluding the common side effects, most patients report feeling nothing during their radiotherapy treatment appointments.

Patients aren’t radioactive after radiotherapy treatment and it’s perfectly safe be around others, including children and pregnant women.

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