Radiation therapy for skin cancer
Radiation therapy uses a controlled dose of radiation to kill or damage cancer cells. It is used as the main treatment for basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) that are not suitable to be removed surgically, for large areas, or for people not fit enough for surgery. Sometimes radiation therapy is also used after surgery to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back or spreading.
Learn more about:
- How it is given
- Your treatment plan
- What to expect after treatment
- Video: What is radiation therapy?
How it is given
Radiation therapy to treat skin cancer is given externally. It can be done using different techniques and types of radiation. The treatment team will work out the best technique for your situation. You may have a separate planning session so the radiation therapy team can work out the best position for your body during treatment.
Your treatment will usually start within a couple of weeks of this appointment. During each treatment session, you will lie on a table under the radiation machine. Once you are in the correct position, the machine will rotate around you to deliver radiation to the area containing the cancer. The entire process can take 10–20 minutes, but the treatment itself takes only a few minutes.
Your treatment plan
Your treatment plan will depend on the type, size and position of the cancer, and your overall health and wellbeing. This means that the number of treatments can vary. Some people will have five sessions a week for several weeks, others may have a much shorter course.
What to expect after
Skin in the treatment area may become red, dry and sore 2–3 weeks after treatment starts. This soreness may get worse after treatment has finished but it usually improves within six weeks. The treatment team will recommend creams to use to make you more comfortable.
You are not radioactive after external radiation therapy. It is safe for you to be with both adults and children after your treatment sessions.
Video: What is radiation therapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about radiation therapy.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Stephen Shumack, Dermatologist, Royal North Shore Hospital and The University of Sydney, NSW; Dr Margaret Chua, Radiation Oncologist, Head of Radiation Oncology, Skin and Melanoma, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; John Clements, Consumer; Aoife Conway, Skin Lead and Radiation Oncology Nurse, GenesisCare, Mater Hospital, NSW; Sandra Donaldson, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Kath Lockier, Consumer; Dr Isabel Gonzalez Matheus, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Principal House Officer, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; A/Prof Andrew Miller, Dermatologist, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Dr Helena Rosengren, Chair Research Committee, Skin Cancer College of Australasia, and Medical Director, Skin Repair Skin Cancer Clinic, QLD; Dr Michael Wagels, Staff Specialist Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Princess Alexandra Hospital and Surgical Treatment and Rehabilitation Service, and Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland, QLD; David Woods, Consumer.
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