Radiotherapy Treatment for Melanoma Skin Cancer
Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.
Why you have radiotherapy
You might have radiotherapy to shrink advanced melanoma and help to control symptoms.
For stage 3B or 3C melanoma, your doctor might offer you radiotherapy after surgery to remove your lymph nodes.
Radiotherapy can sometimes reduce the chance of cancer coming back in the area where the lymph nodes were. But radiotherapy can cause side effects. And it doesn’t change the risk of the melanoma spreading to other parts of the body such as the organs. So doctors carefully weigh up the benefits of giving radiotherapy against the side effects. They will discuss all the possible risks and benefits with you.
How you have radiotherapy
You have radiotherapy treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department.
For advanced melanoma you might have a single treatment or a few treatments. For radiotherapy after surgery you might have a course of 5 treatments a week for a number of weeks. You usually have the treatment once a day from Monday to Friday with a rest over the weekend. The amount of treatment you have depends on:
- whether you are also having other types of cancer treatment
- the part of the body being treated
The radiotherapy room
Radiotherapy machines are very big and can be daunting at first. Some are fixed in one position, but others rotate around your body.
Before you start treatment your radiographers explain what you’ll see and hear. In some departments the treatment rooms have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music.
During the treatment
You need to lie very still. The machine makes whirring and beeping sounds. You can’t feel the radiotherapy when you have the treatment.
Your radiographers watch and listen to you on a CCTV screen in the next room. They might ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths at times. Tell them if you need to move or want the machine to stop.
You won’t be radioactive
External radiotherapy doesn’t make you radioactive. It’s safe to be with other people throughout your course of treatment.
Travelling to radiotherapy appointments
Tell the radiotherapy department staff if you prefer treatment at a particular time of day. They can try to arrange this.
Radiotherapy can make you tired, especially if you have a long journey. You could ask a family member or friend to drive you to the hospital a couple of times a week.
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
The radiotherapy staff can usually help to arrange transport for you if you need it. Some hospitals have their own drivers or can arrange ambulances. Some charities offer hospital transport.
The side effects of radiotherapy for melanoma vary depending on which part of your body is treated. Radiotherapy just to the skin does not have very many side effects. The skin may become slightly red and sore during the treatment period, like a mild to moderate sun burn. This begins to disappear a week or two after the treatment is over.
You might have some hair loss if you have radiotherapy to a part of the body which has hair. The hair will start to grow back some time after treatment has finished. But the regrowth may be patchy.