Surgical Services

Breast cancer radiotherapy guide

A number of treatments are used to treat breast cancer. In this information we have tried to offer information and advice about your radiotherapy treatment.

Please contact your Nurse Specialist for further information or to discuss any queries you may have.


What is radiotherapy and why do I need it?Show [+]Hide [-]

What is radiotherapy and why do I need it?

Radiotherapy is the controlled use of high energy X-rays, usually following surgery. They are used to make the breast less susceptible to any regrowth of cancer.

What happens next?

Your Surgeon will now refer you on to the Clinical Oncologist (Radiotherapy Doctor), you should receive an appointment within the next two to three weeks to discuss your forthcoming treatment with him/her.

After you have seen the Radiotherapy Doctor the Scheduling Office will ring you with your next appointment to attend the Radiotherapy Department at Freeman Hospital (Northern Centre for Cancer Care).

Your first two appointments will be to plan your treatment. This is called ‘planning’ and is done on a machine called a simulator. It may also involve you having a CT scan to check the position of your heart and lungs. This scan is simply to help us plan your treatment and you will not get any results from it. The dates for your treatment will be sent in the post, and appointment times are usually arranged with the treatment radiographers.

While you are waiting for your treatment to start many people find that it is helpful to use a simple moisturiser on the area to be treated. This helps to make sure that your skin in good condition before the treatment starts.

What will my first visit entail?

Your first visit to the Radiotherapy Department will last approximately an hour. You will be asked to undress to the waist, put on a gown and lie on an X-ray table. You will need to lie on your back with your arm up and out to the side. The Radiographer (the person who gives the treatment) will explain how to lie in the special backrest that is used to support your arm during treatment.

In order to do this comfortably, it is important to continue with any shoulder or arm exercises you have been advised to do. If you experience any difficulty in doing these after your operation please contact your Physiotherapist or Nurse Specialist so that extra physiotherapy can be arranged before you begin your treatment.

The Doctor will tell the Radiographer exactly where he/she wants the radiotherapy directed. To ensure that the treatment is given to the right place the Radiographer will mark the area to be treated with several tiny permanent ink marks. These are not normally noticeable to anyone else and can be removed at a later date if you wish.

Following this your X-rays and plan of treatment have to be checked by your Consultant or a Doctor from his/her team. This is done on your second visit to the planning department.

Will transport be available when I start treatment?

Yes. The hospital provides an ambulance service which can take you to your daily treatments. There is also charity run transport service within the region. Information can be obtained from the radiotherapy department and your Nurse Specialist.

What can I expect when my treatment begins?Show [+]Hide [-]

The treatment is done every day, Monday to Friday over approximately three to five weeks.

For radiotherapy purposes the treatment area is divided into two or three sections known as fields. Although your visit may take longer the actual treatment time is only one to two minutes per field with up to three fields being treated.

The treatment machine will look like the simulator where you treatment was planned and having your treatment will be a similar experience to being on the simulator. Although you will be on your own whilst your treatment is given, the Radiographers are just outside the room and will be able to talk to you.

It is similar to having an X-ray taken, you will not feel or see anything during simulation or treatment but the machines do make quite a loud noise when they are switched on.

Once your treatment begins you will be given written guidelines about general health and skin care issues. You are asked to follow these guidelines throughout your treatment and for some time after. Once a week you will usually see one of your radiotherapy team. This is to monitor your progress and give you a chance to ask him/her any questions. If you have any questions concerning your treatment please do not hesitate to ask a member of staff in the department. They will assist in any way they can.

Are there any side effects?

There can be some side effects to the radiotherapy treatment. These can be discussed in greater depth with the Radiotherapy Doctor at your initial outpatient appointment. Consent for your radiotherapy treatment is also taken then.

Briefly the three main side effects are:

  1. Fatigue/tiredness
  2. Permanent loss of hair under the arm if this area is treated. You will not lose any other hair.
  3. Reddening of the skin within the area treated.
  4. Fatigue/tiredness

Further information and advice will be given at the start of your treatment.

Will I require any further treatment?Show [+]Hide [-]

If you require any additional radiotherapy treatment it will be discussed at your initial outpatient appointment with the Radiotherapy Doctor.

This may take the form of a ‘boost’ treatment at the end of the initial course of treatment. The boost may be a short course of different type of X-rays, electrons. These are given in the same way as the first treatment over five days.

There is additional written information concerning these treatments. This can be obtained by the Radiographers within the Radiotherapy Department if it is appropriate for you.

What happens after my treatment has finished?

You will be seen regularly by the Breast Surgeon and/or Clinical Oncologist (Radiotherapy Doctor) and you will continue to have regular mammograms. The Nurse Specialist will maintain contact with you during your treatment but if you have any queries or concerns please do not hesitate to contact her.

More information

Contact details

Your Nurse Specialist:

Leaflet to download

You can download the information on this page as a pdf leaflet.pdf

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