"Catch Cancer before it catches You"



                        A Simple Guide to Radiotherapy


What is Radiation Therapy?Radiation therapy refers to the treatment of diseases by means of radiation.

  • It is generally used for the treatment of cancer.  

What is Cobalt Machine?

  • It is Teletherapy equipment which is used for the treatment of various type of cancers.

  • Here artificial radioactive substance Cobalt-60 is used which emits gamma radiation.

  • With the help of this radiation that cancer cells are destroyed.  

Why Cobalt-60 Machine?

  • Besides Co-60 machine there are other machines, example: Linear Accelerators.

  • Linear Accelerators is also called high energy machines.

  • Among the high energy machines, Co-60 machine are the mainstay of treatments because of cost, operation and application.  

  • For treatment like head, neck, esophagus which is very common side of cancer, Co-60 machine is the best.  

  • Also depending on the size of the patient especially in this region, there is no need of high energy machine.  

  • Linear Accelerators is a very complex machine, machine problems occurs more frequently.  

  • Big centers/institutes always have Co-60 machines. They cannot solely depend only on Linear Accelerators due to the above mention problems, which will often halt the treatment and consequently patient will suffer.  

What are the Goals of Radiation Therapy?

  • Radiation therapy is an effective treatment for various types of cancers in almost any part of the body.  

  • Its two main goals are,  

  • To cure cancer.  

  • To relieve symptoms  

  • For many patients radiation is the only treatment needed.  

  • About 90% of all cancer patients can be treated by radiation. The rest 10% is a combination of surgery and chemo therapy.  

  • Radiation treatment is also being carried out with the combination of both surgery and chemo therapy.  

Misconception about radiation therapy

Does Radiation therapy hurts?

No, it is similar to X-ray (like chest x-ray etc)

You do not get hurt.

How Does Radiotherapy Work?

Although the radiation affects both cancer and normal cells, it has a greater effect on the cancer cells. Treatment aimed at cure will give the highest possible dose of radiation to the cancer area (within safe limits) to attempt to kill all the cancer cells. Sometimes smaller doses are used, where the aim is to reduce the size of a tumour and/or relieve symptoms.  

How is My Treatment Planned?

Every course of radiotherapy treatment is designed to suit the particular needs of the person receiving it, so you will usually be asked to make a preliminary visit to the Cancer Treatment Centre to have your course of treatment planned. The oncologist and radiographers will do this (in conjunction with x-rays and scans, using a machine called a simulator). Your skin will be marked with coloured pens to define where you will have your treatment. In addition, some minute permanent marks will be made using a special dye and a tiny pin prick.These marks will enable the radiographers to identify exactly the right area at every treatment session. If a head shell has been made for you the guidance marks will be put on the shell rather than on your skin. If you are having radiotherapy to your mouth and/or throat you will need a dental assessment at this stage as you may require some dental treatment before you start your radiotherapy.  

How is Radiotherapy Treatment Given?

Radiotherapy treatment is given using either a machine called cobalt, linear accelerator or, for some skin tumours, a superficial x-ray unit. To receive the radiotherapy, you will lie on a couch and be asked to remain still during the actual treatment.

Consent: It is a legal requirement to have a signed Consent Form from you before the start of your radiotherapy treatment. If you have already been given one of these forms by the oncologist who first advised radiotherapy, please bring the completed form with you when you come for your first appointment. If you have not already been given a form , this will be dealt with at your first appointment.  

Will the Treatment make me Radioactive?

No. There is no possibility of this whatsoever.  

How Long Will My Course of Treatment Last?

Your oncologist will tell you this once the appropriate treatment for you has been decided. A course can last for anything from a single treatment session to five treatments a week for six and a half weeks, depending on a number of factors, e.g. the part of your body being treated and the aim of the treatment.  

How Long Is Each Treatment Session?

This varies from machine to machine. Some machines operate at a faster rate than others, and it also depends on the plan worked out for you. The length of a treatment session can be anything from five minutes to fifteen minutes. Occasionally a session may take longer, but this will be explained on an individual basis. When you come for your first treatment your radiographer will tell you how long each session will take.  

Do I Have To Stay In Hospital?

If you are able to travel to hospital for treatment, there is usually no need for you to be admitted (during the course). Most people are treated as outpatients, but your oncologist will tell you if it would be better for you to be admitted.  

Will I Have Any Tests During Treatment?

During your course of treatment you may need to have occasional blood tests and/or urine tests, depending on the part of your body being treated. Some people also have x-rays and/or scans during their treatment; this is part of the routine and nothing to worry about.  

Am I Likely To Have Any Side-Effects?

Radiotherapy is a localised treatment, which means that any side-effects will depend on the part of your body being treated.Although many people have few, if any, side-effects, everyone reacts differently and during your treatment you may experience one or more of the following:

  • Tiredness (fatigue) You may feel tired and lazy during your treatment and especially towards the end of the course and after it has finished. This is very common, and can last a variable length of time. If it happens to you, pace yourself and rest as much as you feel you need to and gradually the tiredness will pass, although it may take a long while.  

  • Tender skin During your treatment and especially towards the end of your course, your skin in the area being treated may turn red, like mild sunburn, and tenderness and redness may even increase for a week or two after your treatment has finished. (This is because the tissues continue to be affected by the x-rays for several weeks after treatment.) It will gradually recover, but the nurse or radiographer treating you will explain exactly how you should look after your skin, during and after your course of treatment.  

  • Diarrhoea Again, depending on the part of your body being treated, you may experience some diarrhoea. Please tell your radiographer or nurse if this happens to you as you may need diarrhoea-relieving medication. The dietitian will also be pleased to advise you and help you with an eating plan if necessary.  

  • Frequency when passing urine If you are having treatment to your lower abdomen/ pelvis you may find that you pass urine more often and may experience discomfort when doing so. Drinking extra fluids will help, but try to avoid alcohol, tea and coffee as these can irritate your bladder. If this happens to you please tell the staff treating you, so that your urine can be tested for any infection, which could then be treated with appropriate medication.  

  • Sore mouth and throat This only happens if you are having treatment to this part of your body. If it is likely to be a problem your radiographer or nurse will explain how to look after your mouth and throat.  

  • Hair loss Hair loss only occurs where treatment is given. For example you will only lose the hair on your head if your head is being treated, and if your chest is being treated, then you will only lose your chest hair. Whether or not it grows again will depend on how much radiation you have been given. Your oncologist will explain what this means for you. If your hair is expected to grow again, this should happen within a few months of the end of your treatment.  

  • Sickness Depending on the part of your body being treated you may feel nauseous or be sick during your course of treatment. This does not happen to everyone. If you do feel sick, please tell your radiographer or nurse as it can be controlled by tablets or diet.


Published and issued by STATE CANCER SOCIETY OF MEGHALAYA, for public interest.
For further information you may contact the Member Secretary of the Society, at the Cancer Detection Centre, Civil Hospital Shillong.
Phone : 0364-2500815 (O), Email : scsm@shillong.meg.nic.in