What is external beam radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is a treatment used for cancer and some non-cancerous conditions. Radiotherapy uses radiation to treat disease, usually in the form of high energy x-rays known as photons, but it can also be delivered using electrons and protons. At our centre, radiotherapy treatments are delivered using a state-of-the-art linear accelerator (LINAC), which uses electricity to generate x-ray beams into the part of the body needing treatment.

Before you start your radiotherapy treatment you will have a CT and possibly an MRI scan to plan your treatment.

The radiotherapy you receive will be tailored uniquely to you by a highly skilled team, made up of therapy radiographers, physicists and dosimetrists who work alongside your consultant to plan and deliver your treatment.

The types of radiotherapy treatment we offer

There are multiple different ways to deliver radiotherapy, at our centres we use the latest technologies to achieve the best possible treatments:

  • Volumetric-modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT)

    VMAT is a technique which allows the treatment machine to rotate around patients whilst delivering radiation. The beams are focused and shaped throughout the treatment to reduce the amount of normal tissue being affected. This can also be known as Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT).

  • Deep Inspiration Breath-Hold (DIBH)

    DIBH is a technique used during radiotherapy which involves holding your breath. This creates a more stable treatment position for areas influenced by breathing motion, as well as helping to reduce radiation damage to surrounding healthy tissues. At our centres, we use a breathing system known as "Dynr".

    If your oncologist thinks DIBH may be suitable for you, you will be invited to a coaching appointment where your therapy radiographer can demonstrate this technique.

  • Image Guided Radiotherapy (IGRT)

    IGRT is achieved using a variety of systems. At our centres, we routinely image using KV Imaging or Cone Beam CT Imaging to visualise the treatment area to ensure accurate treatment delivery.

How long will my radiotherapy treatment take?

The length of your treatment will depend on your type of cancer. For some people, radiotherapy can be given in a single treatment and for others it will be given daily over a few weeks. Your consultant will discuss how long your treatment will take with you.

Appointment times vary depending on the treatment area and the type of treatment technique used. On average, each daily appointment will last between 15 and 30 minutes. The treatment delivery time is short; your therapy radiographers only need a few minutes a day to deliver your treatment however they will spend extra time beforehand making you comfortable and ensuring you are in exactly the right position for your treatment.

How does radiotherapy work?

Radiotherapy treatment works by damaging the DNA within the cancer cells, causing them to stop growing or die. Although normal cells are also affected by radiotherapy, they can usually repair and recover over time. Radiotherapy can also be used alongside chemotherapy, surgery and other treatments, such as hormone therapy.

Unlike chemotherapy, which affects the whole body, radiotherapy only affects the area being treated. By using sophisticated radiotherapy equipment and techniques, we can target the treatment accurately.

What is the aim of radiotherapy treatment?

You can be given radiotherapy for different reasons. You may be given ‘curative’ or ‘radical’ radiotherapy to try and cure the cancer by destroying the tumour. In some cases, when the cancer cannot be cured, radiotherapy is used to shrink the tumour and help relieve symptoms such as pain.

Occasionally radiotherapy can be used before surgery to shrink or control the growth of a tumour, or after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that may have been left behind.

Your oncologist will discuss your diagnosis with you and explain the purpose of your treatment before you start.

Are there any side effects of radiotherapy?

Any side effects that you may experience will depend on the part of your body being treated. You will be given more detailed, site-specific information before your treatment starts. Before your treatment begins, your consultant will discuss any potential side effects with you and will be able to answer any questions you may have.

The general side effects of radiotherapy are tiredness and fatigue. You may also develop a skin reaction, although this varies from person to person. Your therapy radiographers will closely monitor your side effects and will provide you with advice throughout your treatment. We also offer additional, supportive care to help you manage your side effects, please visit our supportive care page for more information.

Is radiotherapy painful?

Radiotherapy is not a painful treatment and most patients report feeling nothing during their radiotherapy treatment appointments.

Will I be radioactive after radiotherapy treatment?

Radiotherapy will not cause you to become radioactive and it is perfectly safe to be around others, including children and pregnant women.

Find out more

If you have any more questions about radiotherapy treatment at our centres or you would like to make an appointment, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Radiotherapy explained - Macmillan Cancer Support - Video

One of a Kind! A guide to radiotherapy - Video


The Rutherford Cancer Centres infusion therapy suites consists of up to 10 treatment areas offering treatment for haematology/oncology patients requiring systemic anti-cancer therapy (SACT) and supportive care in an outpatient setting. Treatment for breast, urology, upper and lower gastrointestinal, and both malignant and non-malignant haematology disorders is offered.

Proton beam therapy

Proton beam therapy is used today to treat many cancers and is particularly appropriate in situations where treatment options are limited or conventional radiotherapy presents an unacceptable risk to the patient. These situations can include brain cancers, tumors close to the brain stem, spinal cord or other vital organs, prostate cancers, recurring cancers and paediatric cancers. Proton beam therapy is available at the Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales.

Supportive care

At the Rutherford Cancer Centres, we aim to provide holistic support to patients throughout their treatment. We offer easy access to supportive therapies that are provided in-house at our centres. These could include access to: physiotherapy, dietetic services, reflexology and counselling.