What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is a form of treatment that can control the growth of many types of cancers. Radiotherapy is the use of radiation to kill or injure cancer cells so they cannot keep growing. Radiotherapy may be used before surgery (preoperative radiotherapy), or after surgery (postoperative radiotherapy) to destroy cancer cells that cannot be removed surgically. In some cases, radiotherapy is used in combination with chemotherapy to treat the cancer.

Radiotherapy aims include:

  • To cure – many cancers can be completely cured by radiotherapy on its own or when combined with other treatments.
  • As a temporary control – when it is not possible to cure a cancer, radiotherapy may be used to keep the cancer under control for some time by making it smaller or stopping it from spreading.
  • For symptom relief – radiotherapy is often able to relieve distressing cancer symptoms such as pain so you feel as well as possible.
  • As adjuvant therapy – when radiotherapy is used with another treatment, such as surgery, to improve the chances of cure, it is called adjuvant radiotherapy.

This Understanding Radiation Therapy booklet  is designed as a guide for people with cancer, their family and friends.