Home Treatments Radiotherapy

What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is used to kill and destroy cancer cells. It can be used as a non-surgical option to treat cancer, and it can also be used to shrink a tumour or in combination with other treatments. Our team is here to support you on your cancer journey, with treatments and wellbeing services available across the UK through our network of state-of-the-art oncology centres.

External beam radiotherapy (also known as conventional radiotherapy) is used to treat cancer. It utilises radiation in the form of high-energy x-rays, known as photons, to kill and damage the cancerous cells and prevent their growth and reproduction. Targeted treatment is delivered using the latest Elekta Versa HD technology, which ensures the highest levels of accuracy and precision. Radiotherapy can also be used to treat some non-cancerous conditions.

Radiotherapy is planned differently depending on your type of cancer. In addition, patients with the same cancers don't have identical treatment, as this is individual to you and your body. The aim of radiotherapy may be to:

  • Kill and destroy cancer cells
  • Reduce the likelihood of the cancer coming back 
  • Shrink a tumour to slow its growth, before receiving other treatments such as chemotherapy
  • Shrink a tumour to slow its growth and provide relief from symptoms

Your personalised treatment plan usually takes place over days or weeks, and you may hear these sessions called 'fractions'. This is because the full dose of your treatment is divided into separate smaller doses. 

Stress and anxiety are common for those who have been diagnosed with cancer, so it's important to us that you feel involved and supported throughout your treatment and beyond. Your treatment team of highly skilled professionals will deliver your treatment, they are there to help you, so if you have any questions or concerns, they are always on-hand to address them.

You may already have some information about radiotherapy from the internet or from someone you know who has had the treatment. It can be useful to gain an understanding from someone with first-hand experience, but it's important to remember that someone else's experience may not always apply to you, as everyone is different. 

Cancers we treat with radiotherapy

Before treatment begins, an oncologist will discuss and explain the full aim of the radiotherapy treatment plan and if further services will be required alongside it. Radiotherapy can be used on its own for treating certain cancers, or it can be used with other treatments, such as chemotherapy. It's also often used following tumour removal surgery, to target any remaining cancerous cells. 

The suitability of treating certain body areas with radiotherapy is dependant on the location and staging of the cancer.

Areas of the body we currently treat using conventional radiotherapy at the Rutherford Cancer Centres:

  • Bowel
  • Brain
  • Breast
  • Dupuytren's*
  • Gynaecological
  • Head & Neck
  • Liver
  • Lower GI (anal and rectal)
  • Lung
  • Lymphoma
  • Oesophagus
  • Pancreatic
  • Sarcoma
  • Skin
  • Upper GI
  • Urological

*We can use radiotherapy to treat some non-cancerous condtions.

How does radiotherapy work?

The organs and tissues of your body are made up of tiny building blocks, which are called cells. Radiotherapy treatment uses high-energy x-rays known as photons to damage cancer cells; this destroys the cells' ability to replicate, halting growth and causing the cells to die. Radiotherapy can sometimes affect surrounding healthy tissue; however, normal healthy cells can repair and recover between treatment sessions, and once the treatment has finished as well. Radiotherapy can also be combined with other treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy, to deliver the best possible outcomes.

At the Rutherford Cancer Centres, we use the most up-to-date imaging systems and linear accelerator machines (known as a 'LINAC' machines) to deliver radiotherapy treatment sessions. LINACS are specially designed to shape the high-energy x-rays to match the shape of a tumour (covering the whole of the cancer plus an area around it), resulting in reduced side effects when compared to other treatment types, such as chemotherapy.

Our treatment team work closely with you to plan and deliver your treatment. This will include a CT scan (and possibly an MRI) before treatment. This ensures the accurate mapping of where the cancer cells are located, as well as their exact size and shape. This allows treatment to be tailored to your needs. During a treatment session, we will ensure you are as comfortable as possible, and the technology is designed to move around you, to treat you from any angle required.

Radiotherapy treatment techniques

There are different ways to deliver radiotherapy treatment; we use the latest technologies and up-to-date therapies to achieve the best possible treatments for you. Below is a list of the different techniques we use at the Rutherford Cancer Centres:

Volumetric-Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT) - VMAT, a type of Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), is a technique which utilises a LINAC machine. The LINAC can rotate around you and, adjust the shape and intensity of the radiation beam as it targets the treatment area. This means less radiation is delivered to healthy tissue, making treatment delivery more accurate.

Image-Guided Radiotherapy (IGRT) - IGRT is achieved using a variety of systems and is carried out with the use of scans and x-rays to precisely locate cancer in the body. We use cone-beam CT imaging to correctly visualise the treatment area and ensure accurate delivery of the radiotherapy treatment.

Deep Inspiration Breath-Hold (DIBH) - DIBH radiotherapy is a technique used by patients undergoing treatment which involves you  holding your breath during treatment. This allows for a more stable treatment position for areas influenced by breathing motion - for example, the heart and lungs. DIBH reduces the amount of radiation delivered to surrounding healthy tissue, especially when treating cancer of the breast or chest wall. If this is suitable for your treatment plan, you will be invited to a coaching appointment, where you'll be introduced to our "Dynr" breathing system. Your therapy radiographer will demonstrate the technique and address any questions you may have.

The benefits of radiotherapy

Radiotherapy can be very beneficial for many individuals, but will always depend on your circumstances. Radiotherapy is a localised treatment, and while it can cause side effects, these will only be related to your treatment area. This will be discussed with you prior to treatment.

The benefits of radiotherapy are:

  • It can be used to provide relief from symptoms and pain, and to help control and prevent cancer from spreading
  • It can be used alongside other treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy
  • Many people cope with radiotherapy quite well and can often go about their daily routine
  • Treatment sessions often take about 20 minutes, meaning you can go home afterwards

An overview of how radiotherapy works

External beam radiotherapy uses high-energy x-rays to treat cancer; it can be used on its own or in combination with other treatments. Find out more about how it works in this video from Macmillan Cancer Support.

Watch the video

Excellent staff, service. King and approachable at all times. Very supportive.

Patient Feedback - Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales

September 2019

The staff at Rutherford have been excellent every time I visited - no complaints at all during my treatment.

Patient Feedback - Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales

August 2019

Very helpful and friendly, excellent!

Patient Feedback - Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales

August 2019

What a lovely, warm and relaxing place to be, when you're maybe not your best and don't feel like going through the things you need to. The staff are fab and help with everything, they make you feel human again!

Patient Feedback - Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales

August 2019

Absolutely lovely, friendly warm welcome from everybody we saw, couldn't ask for anymore.

Patient Feedback - Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales

July 2019

Friendly staff, nice location/setting.

Patient Feedback - Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales

July 2019

We're here for you

It’s important that you feel supported, not only during your treatment but also afterwards, to give your body the best possible chance to heal.

After treatments your recovery will be supported by regular follow-up checks with your consultant. These will vary depending on the area of your body that's been treated, and the amount of treatment you've received. Follow-up appointments are used to help keep track of your recovery, so if you have any concerns you will have the opportunity to discuss them with your consultant.

The diagnosis of cancer combined with possible side effects can affect how you feel. Your treatment team is here to support you, and we encourage you to talk to us. Sometimes just talking about your emotions can be of great help and if necessary, we can arrange for further advice and support.

Macmillan Cancer Support offers a wide range of information and support, as well as help with your practical, emotional, and financial needs. All telephone helplines are free and confidential, and interpreting services are also available.

If you have cancer, it's understandable you might be worried about coronavirus. Here is the latest guidance from Macmillan.

Freephone: 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am – 8.00pm)

General information for patients having radiotherapy

If you would like to know more about radiotherapy, including how it works, its benefits and possible side effects; please download our patient guide.

Download General info - radiotherapy(pdf)

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.

Usually, day appointments last between 15 minutes to half an hour, with the actual treatment time only taking a few minutes.

Side effects can be common with radiotherapy, however, all side effects can be managed, and most side effects experienced during treatment will pass once the treatment has finished. Any side effects will only be related to your treatment area.

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.

Get in Touch

If you'd like to speak to us about any of the treatments we offer please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Call us on 0800 210 0402 or

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