Radiation therapy is treatment that uses high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells. Our radiation oncologists (the doctors who specialize in treating cancer with radiation therapy) use the most advanced equipment and techniques. They target radiation beams to tumors, providing powerful treatment while avoiding damage to healthy tissue nearby.
Radiation therapy is considered local treatment because it focuses on the tumor or cancerous area, not on cancer in other parts of the body.
Women with gynecologic cancers may get radiation therapy after undergoing surgery to help kill the cancer and reduce the risk of recurrence.
Sometimes radiation therapy is given to women who do not have surgery for their gynecologic cancers. They may be treated with a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. They will meet with their gynecologic cancer doctor and a radiation cancer doctor to talk about their treatment plan.
Some women get a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, called chemoradiation, after surgery. The chemotherapy helps make the radiation even more effective.
Types of radiation therapy
There are 2 main types of radiation therapy for cervical and endometrial cancers:
1. External radiation
Our radiation oncologists deliver this type of radiation to the cancer using machines outside the body. The radiation machine moves around your body without touching you.
External radiation therapy does not cause pain, and you won’t feel anything during your treatments. This treatment, also called external beam radiation (EBRT), does not make you radioactive. You can safely be around other people, including children.
External beam radiation is the most common approach to radiation treatment. It is produced by machines that move around the outside of your body, but they never touch you. You won’t feel anything.
External radiation therapy can be delivered in different ways:
- 3D (3-dimensional) conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT)
With this method, 3D images help the doctor better target the tumor. The images are created using a special machine — a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. The radiation beams can be aimed from many different angles to match the exact shape of the cancer.
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
This method is similar to the first method, but the doctor can adjust how much radiation you get from each beam. In certain situations, this allows for better avoidance of nearby normal cells, and fewer potential side effects.
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) or stereotactic ablative radiation therapy (SABR)
This method works like the first 2 methods, and the total amount of radiation you get is similar. But with this method, the radiation is given in fewer but stronger doses.
2. Internal radiation (Brachytherapy)
When giving internal radiation, your doctor temporarily inserts small applicators into your vagina. The applicators will pause at targeted locations to emit radiation. The amount of time they transmit at each location will be mapped by your care team according to the precise details of where the cancer was found or removed. This kind of internal radiation is called brachytherapy.
Each internal radiation treatment visit usually lasts between 4 and 6 hours total. During this treatment, your doctor will keep you comfortable with pain medicine or sometimes with light sedation or anesthesia.
You will not be radioactive after treatment and can safely be around others when you return home. The duration and frequency of your treatments will be personalized to your condition. There are typically 3 to 6 treatments total that last for a few minutes each. Most of the time, treatments can be done as an outpatient (no hospital stay), with a return home the same day.
Sometimes, brachytherapy is offered in combination with external beam therapy. The exact combination of your treatment will be determined by your doctor.
Published July 2018
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