Radiation therapy is high energy rays that can destroy cancer cells. It can also shrink tumors. A radiation oncologist will create a specific plan for you. The goal is to kill as much cancer as it can while saving as much healthy tissue as possible.
Radiation therapy may be given:
- If surgery is not an option
- After surgery to kill any remaining cancerous tissue
- For metastatic cancer to relieve symptoms and extend survival time
External Beam Radiation
Short bursts of radiation is sent through the skin from a machine. It is targeted to a specific area. This type of radiation often only takes a few minutes. For uterine cancer, external beam radiation therapy is often given 5 days a week for up to 6 weeks.
External beam radiation may be combined with chemotherapy.
This type of radiation can be delivered right to the area. This allows a high dose of radiation to reach the cancer. There will also be smaller effect on healthy tissue like bladder or rectum. A device with radioactive materials is placed in the upper part of the vagina.
Vaginal brachytherapy is done at 2 rates:
- High-dose rate—Generally takes less than one hour. Does not require a hospital stay. The 3 doses can be done in 3 days. They may also be spread out over the course of 3 weeks.
- Low-dose rate—Device is left in place for up to 4 days. A hospital stay may be needed since you will need to be immobile. This option is not often used in the US.
Side Effects and Management
Complications of radiation therapy to the pelvic area may include:
- Bladder irritation—may increase urination, urgent need to urinate, or pain during urination
- Bowel irritation—may cause diarrhea, blood in the stool, and pain in the anal area
- Vaginal itching, burning, dryness, or discharge
- Blood clots in the legs (low-dose rate brachytherapy)
- Menstrual changes
- Premature menopause—may be temporary or permanent
If you plan on having children, talk to your doctor. There may be options to preserve fertility before starting treatment.
A variety of treatments are available to help manage side effects of radiation therapy. The earlier side effects are addressed, the better they can be managed.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 12/2017 -
- Update Date: 12/13/2017 -