Superficial Radiotherapy

Patient Leaflets Team

  • Reference Number: HEY-315/2018
  • Departments: Radiotherapy


This leaflet has been produced to provide general information about superficial radiotherapy treatment.  Many of your questions should be answered by this leaflet.  It is not intended to replace discussion between your doctor and you.  If after reading it, you have any concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the healthcare team.

What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is the use of X-rays to treat cancer. In this case, low energy X-rays ensures superficial (shallow) penetration of the skin. The X-rays focus on the precise area for treatment that has been decided by your consultant. Your consultant will have also prescribed the most effective type treatment for you and this may differ from one person to the next.  This could also mean that you may have to undergo more than one treatment of superficial radiotherapy.

Shows a typical superficial treatment
Shows a typical superficial treatment (Radiotherapy department photograph).

Before treatment

You will be given an appointment and at this appointment the area which is going to undergo treatment will be ‘marked up’.  This means your consultant will mark up the precise treatment area on your body and the details will be recorded.  This may involve your consultant drawing on your skin with a temporary marker pen, making a template, taking measurements or even taking a photograph.  Once this process is complete, the treatment dose can be calculated and any further equipment, such as shielding, to protect areas we want to avoid treating, can be made.  The shielding if required is very small and can be placed easily onto your skin.

For some patients, whose treatment is near to the eye, it may be necessary to use an internal eye shield to protect the eye.  This would involve eye-drops being administered to numb your eye, prior to the shield being inserted.  The shield is inserted under your eyelid, just like a contact lens.

It is sometimes possible for your treatment to start on the same day as your ‘mark up’.  If this is the case you would have been informed previously either by letter or from your Consultant.

How is my radiotherapy treatment given?

Superficial radiotherapy is a quick, simple and painless process.  You will be positioned on the treatment couch and we will try and make you as comfortable as possible.  The machine will then be positioned over the area to be treated and will make light contact with the skin.  Once the machine has been set up the Radiographers will stand in the control room, which is next to the treatment room and they will be able to observe you at all times through the window.

How long will the radiotherapy treatment take?

Treatment time is typically 1 to 2 minutes however this will vary according to your treatment prescription.

How often will I have to undergo radiotherapy treatment?

The number of radiotherapy treatments you require will vary according to your treatment prescription.   Your treatment will normally be performed as an outpatient procedure and your course of treatment will depend on the type of cancer, its location and size.

Short term and long term side effects

During radiotherapy treatment the area which is being treated may gradually become red.  You may also experience some irritation and in some cases the area may discharge a little and form scabs.  During your period of treatment, you will be regularly reviewed and skin care advice will be given to you at every step of the way. The effects of the treatment will continue for approximately four weeks after completion of your course.

Long term effects can take several years to develop and could include; skin colour alterations in the area treated, skin atrophy (thinning of the skin); increased sensitivity to the sun and telangiectasia (enlarged thin walled blood vessels close to the surface of the skin).

Skin care advice to be followed before and after your treatment

Prior to your treatment you will be given advice about how to look after your skin whilst on treatment in order to minimise any side effects.  During your course of treatment, the Radiographers will monitor the area being treated and refer you to the skin care nurse if necessary.

Please see the ‘Skin Care during Radiotherapy’ leaflet that you will have been given prior to starting your course of treatments.

What happens afterwards?

Once your treatment is finished you will be given further advice about how to care for your skin and what you can expect in the next few weeks.  A follow up appointment will also be made for you and you can then discuss your progress with your consultant at this appointment.

Should you require further advice on the issues contained in this leaflet, please do not hesitate to contact the Information and Support Team on telephone number: (01482) 461206.

General Advice and Consent

Most of your questions should have been answered by this leaflet, but remember that this is only a starting point for discussion with the healthcare team.

Consent to treatment

Before any doctor, nurse or therapist examines or treats you, they must seek your consent or permission. In order to make a decision, you need to have information from health professionals about the treatment or investigation which is being offered to you. You should always ask them more questions if you do not understand or if you want more information.

The information you receive should be about your condition, the alternatives available to you, and whether it carries risks as well as the benefits. What is important is that your consent is genuine or valid. That means:

  • you must be able to give your consent
  • you must be given enough information to enable you to make a decision
  • you must be acting under your own free will and not under the strong influence of another person

Information about you

We collect and use your information to provide you with care and treatment. As part of your care, information about you will be shared between members of a healthcare team, some of whom you may not meet. Your information may also be used to help train staff, to check the quality of our care, to manage and plan the health service, and to help with research. Wherever possible we use anonymous data.

We may pass on relevant information to other health organisations that provide you with care. All information is treated as strictly confidential and is not given to anyone who does not need it. If you have any concerns please ask your doctor, or the person caring for you.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 we are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of any information we hold about you. For further information visit the following page: Confidential Information about You.

If you or your carer needs information about your health and wellbeing and about your care and treatment in a different format, such as large print, braille or audio, due to disability, impairment or sensory loss, please advise a member of staff and this can be arranged.

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