What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy uses radiation, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams or protons, to kill or damage cancer cells and stop them from growing and multiplying. It is a localised treatment, which means it generally only affects the part of the body where the radiation is directed.

How does radiotherapy work?

Radiotherapy damages cancer cells in the region being treated. Although the radiation can also damage normal cells, they can usually repair themselves. During this repair process, you may experience some side effects, depending on the part of your body being treated.

Why have radiotherapy?

Many people diagnosed with cancer will have radiotherapy as part of their treatment. Research shows that at least one in two people recently diagnosed with cancer would benefit from radiotherapy† (see reference in inside front cover). It can be used for several reasons:

  • Cure – Radiotherapy given with the aim of curing the cancer on its own or combined with other treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy. This may be called curative treatment.
  • Control – Radiotherapy used to control the cancer by making it smaller or stopping it from spreading.
  • Help other treatments – Radiotherapy is used before (neoadjuvant) or after (adjuvant) other treatments. The aim is to make the main treatment more effective.
  • Symptom relief (palliative treatment) – Radiotherapy is often able to relieve symptoms, such as pain or bleeding, to help you to feel as well as possible.

How is radiotherapy given?

It can be given in two ways:

  • External radiotherapy – You will lie on a treatment table underneath a machine, which aims radiation beams towards your body. The machine remains outside of your body and doesn’t come into contact with you. Radiation beams are directed towards the cancer and surrounding tissues where the cancer may have spread.
  • Internal radiotherapy – A radiation source is put inside the body on or near the cancer. This includes brachytherapy, where a temporary or permanent radiation source is put inside the body on or near the cancer, or radioisotope treatment, where a radioactive isotope is given as a capsule.

Depending on the type and size of the cancer, and where it is in your body, you may have one or both types of radiotherapy.

Where will I have treatment?

Radiotherapy is delivered by specially trained staff called radiation therapists.

It uses large medical equipment that takes up a lot of space, so treatment is usually given in large hospitals or private clinics, in dedicated rooms.

Radiotherapy departments are run in different ways, so procedures may vary slightly. While the information in this booklet will apply in most cases, you may find things are done a little differently at the place where you’re being treated.

Travelling to treatment

While treatment schedules can vary for individuals, most people have radiotherapy on an outpatient basis. This means they do not stay in hospital, but travel to the radiotherapy department for each session.

If you are driving to the treatment centre, you may find you feel tired after a few weeks of treatment. At this stage, you may want to arrange for a family member or friend to drive you to treatment.

If you have to travel a long way each day to treatment, you may be able to get some financial assistance towards the cost of accommodation or travel. To check your eligibility or to apply, speak to the hospital social worker or radiotherapy department receptionist, or call Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20.

How do I know the treatment has worked?

In the weeks and months following your course of treatment, you will talk with your doctor, be examined and have some tests or scans. This will show if the cancer has responded or gone away.

Cancer cells begin to die during a course of radiotherapy and this may continue for weeks or months after treatment ends. For this reason, the health professionals treating you can’t give you progress updates on how radiotherapy is going throughout the course of your treatment. However, they can adjust the dose and help you manage any side effects.

It may be some time after radiotherapy finishes before the full benefit is confirmed. Follow-up tests will be done periodically to see if the cancer has regrown or recurred.

If radiotherapy is given as palliative treatment, the relief of symptoms will tell you if the treatment has worked. This may take a few days or a few weeks.

This information was last reviewed in February 2014

This information has been reviewed by: Dr Kevin Palumbo, Radiation Oncologist, Adelaide Radiotherapy Centre, SA; A/Prof Michael Jackson, Director, Radiation Oncology, Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW; Amanda Janus, Radiation Therapist, St Andrew’s Toowoomba Hospital, QLD; Page Massey, Consumer; Emma Marafioti, Site Manager, Adelaide Radiotherapy Centre: Calvary Central Districts, SA; Julie Trevanian, Associate Nurse Unit Manager, William Buckland Radiotherapy Gippsland, Latrobe Hospital, VIC; Kathryn Watty, Nurse Unit Manager, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; and Cancer Council QLD Helpline Operators.

View our editoral policy

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059

Kobo

To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630