What is radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy is a general term for the treatment of cancer with x-rays. It works by killing cancer cells and is often used on its own to treat lung cancer. It may also be given as part of a combined treatment with surgery and/or chemotherapy.
It is usually given from outside the chest (external radiotherapy) by directing x-rays at the area needing treatment. The machines that are most commonly used for this are called linear accelerators. However, radiotherapy can also be given by putting a small amount of radiation directly inside the lung (brachytherapy).
Radiotherapy doctors (radiotherapists) will know which treatment is best for the patient. The following information in this section is referring to external radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is only given in specialist cancer centres because the treatment is very specialised and expensive. This may involve long journeys to the nearest cancer centre, depending on where the patient lives.
Are there any side-effects of radiotherapy?
Yes, although they vary from person to person depending on the type of treatment and the patient’s general fitness. Here are some of the more common side-effects of radiotherapy along with some practical advice on how to manage them:
|Some pain in the chest in the 24 hours after the treatment.||This is usually mild and settles down fairly quickly. Use an "over-the-counter" painkiller and if this doesn't work speak to a GP.|
|Skin in the treated area becomes a little pink or red. It may also feel a little dry or itchy||Patients may bathe or shower during treatment, but do not have the water too hot. Use mild baby soap, but try not to rub the treated area particularly if it is red or itchy. It's best to pat the area dry with a soft towel. Avoid perfumed talcum powder or lotion.|
|Soreness when swallowing due to the gullet (oesophagus) becoming irritated by the treatment||There are soothing liquid medicines which can be prescribed by a doctor. However, patients may find cool/luke-warm drinks or ice-cream soothing. In addition, eat food that is soft or mushy, such as porridge or soup.|
|Increase in patient’s cough and sputum (spit).||Don't worry, this is quite normal, but if a patient is having difficulties they should let a doctor know.|
|Tiredness following treatment.||This can last for a number of weeks after treatment has ended. Patients should make sure they take it easy and rest when they feel tired.|
|Scarring of the lung.||Patients might notice a slight increase in breathlessness. If this becomes a problem see a hospital doctor or GP, as there are medicines and breathing exercises which can help.|
|Spinal cord/heart damage.||As the treatment is often close to these areas there may be a very rare chance they may be damaged.|
For more information on radiotherapy see our Radiotherapy for Lung Cancer Booklet
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