Cancer information for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander People

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, uses high energy rays to treat cancer.

What is radiation therapy?

  • It is a course of high energy rays. They are like rays of light. You cannot feel them. They are painless.
  • It is a common way to treat cancer.
  • It works in the area of your body where the cancer is.

Why do I need it?

Because your body cannot fix cancer by itself, doctors use radiation therapy to target and kill cancer.

This treatment may help to:

  • cure the cancer
  • shrink or stop the cancer from getting bigger
  • control the spread of the cancer
  • reduce any pain and other problems caused by the cancer.

How do I get it?

There are two types of radiation therapy that your doctor may recommend, depending on your cancer:

Internal radiation: Doctors put small x-ray seeds inside the body, directly on the cancer, to treat the cancer. This may require minor surgery.

External beam radiation: Doctors use a machine to target the cancer from outside the body. You lie still on a table. The machine will move around you and stop at different times to put high energy rays into the cancer.

Where do I go to get it?

You will have radiation therapy at a cancer centre in a hospital. A radiation oncologist (radiation doctor) and a radiation therapist (delivers the treatment) will work together to give you the radiation therapy safely and reduce side effects.

How long will I have it?

It is usually given once a day for several weeks.

How will the radio affect my body?

Radiation therapy needs to be strong to kill the cancer in your body, and sometimes it can affect how you look and feel during the treatment.

What you feel depends on where the radiation is going in the body.

Your doctor will tell you what side-effects you may have. Most go away in 4–6 weeks. Some people:

  • feel tired
  • have itchy skin on the body part receiving the radiation
  • loose body hair.

If you are having radiation in the:

  • chest – you may have a cough
  • head or neck – you may get a dry mouth and thickened saliva
  • upper tummy – your stomach may become upset
  • a little lower – your bowel or bladder may be affected
Your radiation therapy team will help you through the treatment and with any problems you may have.