Superficial
Radiation Therapy (SXRT)

What is Superficial Radiation Therapy (SXRT)?

Superficial Radiation Therapy (SXRT) is a treatment that radiation oncologists can use for some people.

SXRT is safe, quick, pain free and very effective for treating some cancers. SXRT is a very simple type of radiation therapy. It targets the cancer while limiting radiation to healthy parts of the body.

During treatment people do not need to lie down flat or wear a mask. It can be a good choice for people who are frail or have other medical conditions as it is easier to tolerate.

SXRT can cure skin cancers and should be considered for people who are not able to, or do not wish to have surgery.

SXRT can also help symptoms, such as bone pain close to the skin. Radiation oncologists also use SXRT to treat some benign or non-cancer conditions, such as Dupuytren’s and Keloid Scar.

The SXRT machine is smaller and more flexible than other machines used for radiation therapy. This means radiation oncologists can use it to treat areas of the body that may be difficult to operate on, such as the lips, eyelids or nose. SXRT also works well in areas where the larger external beam radiation therapy machines may not work for example ears, fingers and small parts of the scalp or face.

Not all treatment centres offer SXRT. The best person to talk to about SXRT is a radiation oncologist. You can ask your doctor for a referral to a radiation oncologist to learn about radiation therapy and to find out if SXRT is right for you.

The Treatment Team

Doctors make a treatment plan for each person based on:

  • where the cancer or benign condition is
  • what other treatments have been tried
  • the person’s health and overall function
  • the aim of the SXRT and whether the goal is to cure or improve symptoms and quality of life.

A highly trained radiation oncology team takes care of people having radiation therapy. This includes radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, medical physicists and radiation oncology nurses.

Superficial Radiation Therapy Treatment

There is no set treatment for SXRT, and radiation oncology teams work out the best plan for each person. Some people get a single treatment, others may have daily treatments from Monday to Friday for 5-6 weeks treatment, or it may be 5 to 15 treatments spread over a few weeks.

What Happens During Treatment?

Inside the SXRT treatment room, the radiation therapy team will:  

  1. Use a temporary pencil to draw around the area of your skin that needs treatment. The team use reports from biopsies or surgeries, photographs of skin lesions before surgery and other tests to work this out.
  2. Put a thin lead shield on your skin. 
  3. Match a hole in the lead exactly to the area they are treating.
  4. Mold the soft shielding to the shape of your skin to protect surrounding areas.
  5. Position the radiation therapy machine to touch the shielding – though you will not feel this. 
  6. Leave the treatment room and turn the machine on. This ensures they do not get any radiation themselves. 
  7. Watch you during the treatment, which will take a few minutes. 
  8. Turn the machine off and come back in. The treatment is now complete. 
  9. Remove the temporary pencil mark before you leave. 

General Information About Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

With SXRT radiation oncologists can effectively treat cancer on the skin or near the surface of the skin, while getting less radiation healthy body parts. This means much fewer side effects.

Side effects from radiation therapy vary between people, even for those having the same treatment. With palliative radiation therapy the side effects are very mild as radiation oncologists use a low dose of radiation.

The side effects of radiation treatment can be split into 2 groups:

  1. Early side effects which occur during and shortly after radiation treatment.
  2. Late side effects which can occur months to years after radiation treatment

While some people feel no side effects, most people have some mild side effects, such as tiredness, or skin redness and blistering during and/or just after treatment.

These usually get better after a few weeks.

The treatment team will offer advice on wound care and dressings, as well as pain relief as needed.

Side effects that start months to years after treatment are mainly cosmetic, but they may be permanent. They can include means paler skin, visible blood vessels (often called spider veins) and firmer skin and tissues under the skin.

The radiation oncologist will talk to you about side effects and answer your questions before starting treatment.

Further Information
You can ask your Surgeon or General Practitioner for a referral to a Radiation Oncologist for a discussion about whether radiation therapy is a suitable treatment option for you.

Radiation Oncologist

The best person to talk to is a radiation oncologist. You can ask your doctor for a referral to find out if radiation treatment is right for you.

GPs and Health Professionals

Information for any health professional involved in a patient's cancer care with a particular focus on primary care providers.

Talking to Your Doctor

Your GP or other doctors in the cancer team can organise a referral to a radiation oncologist.

Treatment Centres

Search and find your closest Radiation Oncology Treatment Centre.

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