Radiotherapy (X-ray treatment) can be used as either the main
treatment for some cancers, or in addition to surgery and chemotherapy.
It can also be used to treat cancer that has returned after treatment.
A radiotherapist will first assess the area that needs radiotherapy,
which is called the 'field', and calculate the dose and number of visits
that you need.
The two main types of radiotherapy are called external- beam
radiotherapy and brachytherapy. With external- beam radiotherapy, an
X-ray beam is directed at the area with the cancer, while brachytherapy
involves leaving an X-ray-emitting device in the uterus or vagina. This
is usually inserted under a general anaesthetic, and it may be left
in place for up to a day, depending on the type of device used.
You may have skin rashes, diarrhoea, bladder irritation, tiredness
and flu-like symptoms during and straight after treatment. Many of these
can be relieved with medical treatments, although bladder or bowel irritation
may persist for months or become permanent. In young women, the ovaries
may stop making hormones, and hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) may
be needed on a long-term basis.
A very uncommon but serious possible side-effect is fistula formation,
where an opening forms between either the bowel or urinary system and
the vagina. An operation is usually required to overcome this problem.