Chemoradiotherapy treatment

Chemoradiotherapy means having chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment together.

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs circulate throughout the body in the bloodstream.

Radiotherapy uses radiation, usually x-rays, to destroy cancer cells.

When you have chemoradiotherapy

Your doctor might suggest chemoradiotherapy if you have:

  • stage 2 or 3 non small cell lung cancer that can’t be removed with surgery
  • or very early stage small cell lung cancer

You need to be fairly well to have this treatment because the side effects can be difficult to cope with.

The treatment can help to control the cancer. You might have it as part of a clinical trial.


You usually have treatment in the chemotherapy day unit or you might need to stay in hospital for a day or more.

The most common chemotherapy drug is cisplatin and it is often combined with other chemotherapy drugs. You usually have it before the radiotherapy starts as a drip into your arm every 3 to 4 weeks. You might continue to have it during the radiotherapy treatment. Or you might have it when the radiotherapy ends.

A nurse puts a small tube into one of your veins and connects it to the drip. Or you might have a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drug into a large vein, either in your chest or in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which might be for a few months.


You have radiotherapy in short sessions every weekday for about 4 to 6 weeks. 

Before you begin treatment, the radiotherapy team works out how much radiation you need. They divide it into a number of smaller treatments. They call each treatment a fraction. This is called radiotherapy planning.

The radiographers might make pen marks or small tattoos on your skin in the treatment area. You may need to raise your arms above your head for a while. Or you might have a radiotherapy shell (mould) made to keep you still while you have treatment.

After your planning session

Your treatment starts a few days or up to 3 weeks after the planning session. 

Having treatment

You lie under a large machine to have radiotherapy.

Side effects

Chemoradiotherapy can cause side effects, such as tiredness, sickness, a sore throat, and a cough and breathlessness.

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