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Having radiotherapy for cervical cancer

Having radiotherapy for cervical cancer involves the treatment being planned using scans and the treatment being given.

We know that you may feel nervous about having radiotherapy or worried about any effects of the treatment. We are here to support you, whether you want to talk through options, understand more about radiotherapy, or simply have someone listen to what’s going on.

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Planning radiotherapy

This information is only for guidance. It is important to speak to your healthcare team for information about your specific radiotherapy treatment.

Who you might meet

As part of your radiotherapy planning and treatment, you may meet:

  • a clinical oncologist – an expert who specialises in treating cancer with radiotherapy
  • a radiographer – an expert in giving radiotherapy
  • your clinical nurse specialist (CNS) – your main point of contact who can offer emotional support and help answer questions.

Planning visits     

A radiographer and your clinical oncologist will carefully plan your treatment to make sure it targets the cervical cancer, while trying not to damage the healthy parts of your body. 

Your first planning visit will take between 30 minutes and 2 hours. You will usually have a scan of the area that is being treated. This may be a:

  • a CT scan
  • MRI scan 
  • PET-CT scan. 

You may have multiple scans – for example, a scan with a full bladder and a scan with an empty bladder. This helps your healthcare team plan the precise area for your radiotherapy. 

If you have a CT scan, you may have an injection of dye into your vein. This helps your healthcare team see areas of your body more clearly. The dye may make you:

  • feel hot
  • have a metallic taste in your mouth 
  • feel like you want to pee. 

These effects normally only last a few minutes.  

You might have to take your clothes off and wear a hospital gown during this scan. The scan won’t hurt but you need to lie still on a hard couch. Tell your radiographer if you are not comfortable so they can help you get into position. You will need to lie in the same position on a similar couch for your treatments. 

The radiographer may use needles to make small permanent marks, like tiny dots, on your skin. This is so they can get you back into the right position and treat the right place. If you don’t like needles, let your healthcare team know so they can arrange the right support for you.

It can take up to 2 or 3 weeks for your healthcare team to plan your treatment after your visit. 

How long will radiotherapy take?

You usually have radiotherapy once a day from Monday to Friday, with a rest at the weekend. It usually takes about 5 to 8 weeks to have the full course of treatment.

During radiotherapy  

You will have your treatment as an outpatient, which means you won’t have to stay in hospital. Each session of radiotherapy treatment takes a few minutes. 

External radiotherapy uses a machine called a linear accelerator. It is like a large x-ray machine. The machine moves around you but doesn’t touch you. The radiotherapy doesn’t hurt.

You will probably need to have a full bladder for each treatment. The radiographer will tell you how much water to drink.

You will need to take off some of your clothes and wear a gown. The radiographers will help you get comfortable in the right position on the couch. You will have to keep as still as possible. 

The radiographer leaves the room while you have treatment, but they can see and talk to you. The machine makes a slight buzzing noise while you are having treatment.

After radiotherapy

Once the radiotherapy has finished, you will be able to go home. You will not be radioactive. This means it’s safe for you to be around other people, including children and pregnant women.

Brachytherapy

After you have completed your full course of radiotherapy, you will usually have a type of internal radiotherapy called brachytherapy. 

If brachytherapy is not possible for you, then you will have a further course of external radiotherapy. This is usually another 2 weeks.

Read about brachytherapy >

Recovering from radiotherapy

It can take a long time to recover and feel like yourself again after radiotherapy. The exact time will depend on:

  • the side effects you have
  • your general health. 

Generally, it takes a few months to recover from radiotherapy. But you may have long-term effects that can last for many years or, in some cases, for the rest of your life. 

You will need to rest to help your recovery. Try to limit your normal activities until you start feeling better, as these can take a lot of energy. Remember to be kind and gentle to yourself – recovery takes time and you may also be recovering from surgery or chemotherapy too. 

If you are struggling with your emotions before, during or after radiotherapy, you are not alone. We know that lots of women and people who have had a cervical cancer diagnosis or treatment feel sad, down or depressed.  Sometimes this can last a long time after treatment has finished.  

Read about mental health and cervical cancer > 

More information and support about radiotherapy

Radiotherapy and its effects can have a huge impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing. You may be dealing with the effects of other treatments, such as chemotherapy, as well as continuing to process a cervical cancer diagnosis and all that can bring.

Your healthcare team, both at the hospital and at your GP surgery, are there to support you with any questions or worries you have. Remember that we are here for you too, whether you are waiting for radiotherapy, in the middle of treatment, or years past it. Our trained volunteers can listen and help you understand what’s going on via our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000

Check our Helpline opening hours > 

 

Sometimes connecting with others who have gone through a similar experience can be helpful. Our online Forum lets our community give and get support. You can read through the messages or post your own – whichever feels most comfortable.

Join our Forum > 

If you have general questions about radiotherapy, our panel of medical experts may be able to help. They can’t give you answers about your individual situation or health – it’s best to speak with your GP or healthcare team for that.

Use our Ask the Expert service >

Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it. 

References

  • Marth, C. et al (2020). Cervical cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 28;s4. pp.iv72-iv83. 
  • British Gynaecological Cancer Society (2020). Cervical Cancer Guidelines: Recommendations for Practice. Web: www.bgcs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/FINAL-Cx-Ca-Version-for-submission.pdf. Accessed October 2020. 
  • Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust (2017). Long term consequences of cervical cancer and its treatment. Web: www.jostrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/final_ltccc_2017_report.pdf. Accessed October 2020.
  • Horsboel, TA. et al (2019). Increased risk for depression persists for years among women treated for gynecological cancers - a register-based cohort study with up to 19 years of follow-up. Gynecologic Oncology. 153;3). pp.625-632.

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected].

Read more about how we research and write our information >

Side effects of radiotherapy >

Read about the possible side effects of radiotherapy and how to manage them.

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Date last updated: 
04 Nov 2020
Date due for review: 
01 Nov 2023
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