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Having radiotherapy for advanced cancer

Find out what happens when you have radiotherapy for advanced stomach cancer.

Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to treat cancer cells.

Radiotherapy can shrink the cancer, relieve symptoms and help you feel more comfortable.

Radiotherapy might:

  • shrink the tumour if it’s causing a blockage
  • control your pain
  • stop or reduce bleeding from your stomach

You have external radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department, usually as an outpatient.

You might have one treatment a day for a few days, or you may have a few treatments with a few days break between each

Some hospitals have rooms nearby that you can stay in if you have a long way to travel. 

You go to the radiotherapy department from your ward if you’re already in hospital. 


The radiotherapy room

Radiotherapy machines are very big. They rotate around you to give you your treatment. The machine doesn't touch you at any point.

Before you start your course of treatment your radiographers explain what you will see and hear. In some departments the treatment rooms have docks for you to plug in your music player. So you can listen to your own music.

Photo of a linear accelerator

Before your treatment

Your radiographers help you get into position on the treatment couch.

They line up the radiotherapy machine, using marks on your skin.

You might need to raise your arms above your head.

Then they leave you alone in the room for a few minutes.

During the treatment

You need to lie very still on your back. Your radiographers might take images (x-rays or scans) before your treatment to make sure that you're in the right position. The machine makes whirring and beeping sounds. You won’t feel anything when you have the treatment.

Your radiographers can see and hear you on a CCTV screen in the next room. They can talk to you over an intercom and might ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths at times. You can also talk to them through the intercom and tell them if you need to stop or if you're uncomfortable.

You won't be radioactive

This type of radiotherapy won't make you radioactive. It's safe to be around other people, including pregnant women and children.

Travelling to radiotherapy appointments

Tell the radiotherapy department if you prefer treatment at a particular time of day. They can try to arrange this.

Car parking can be difficult at hospitals. It’s worth asking the radiotherapy unit staff:

  • if they can give you a hospital parking permit
  • about discounted parking rates
  • where you can get help with travel fares
  • for tips on free places to park nearby

If you have no other way to get to the hospital, the radiotherapy staff might be able to arrange hospital transport for you. But it might not always be at convenient times. To see if you're eligible they usually work it out based on your earnings or income.

Some hospitals have their own drivers or can arrange ambulances. Some charities offer hospital transport.

Side effects

Radiotherapy to the stomach can make you tired. You might also have sickness (vomiting) or diarrhoea, which can make it difficult to eat.

Last reviewed: 
05 Jul 2016
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    J Tey and others (2014)
    Medicine Vol 93, No 22, 1-6

  • Efficacy of palliative radiotherapy for gastric bleeding in patients with unresectable advanced gastric cancer: a retrospective cohort study
    C Kondoh and others (2015)
    BMC Cancer Vol 14, No 37, 1-6

  • Gastric cancer: ESMO–ESSO–ESTRO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    T. Waddell, M. Verheij, W. Allum, D. Cunningham, A. Cervantes, D. Arnold (October 2013)
    Annals of oncology, Vol 24, Sup 6, 157-163

  • Recent Strategies for Treating Stage IV Gastric Cancer: Roles of Palliative Gastrectomy, Chemotherapy, and Radiotherapy
    K Izuishi and others (2016)
    Journal of gastrointestinal and liver diseases Vol 25, No 1, 87-94

  • Palliative Radiotherapy in the Presence of Well-Controlled Metastatic Disease after Initial Chemotherapy May Prolong Survival in Patients with Metastatic Esophageal and Gastric Cancer
    M Hingorani and others (2015)
    Cancer research and treatment Vol 47, No 4, 706-717

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