Radiation therapy is the use of high-dose
X-rays to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used to treat
endometrial cancer after
hysterectomy or as the primary therapy, particularly
for women who cannot have surgery. The two types of
radiation therapy that may be used to treat
endometrial cancer are:
- Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy), in
which radioactive materials (radioisotopes) are placed into the vagina, uterus,
or other areas where the cancer cells are found.
- External beam
radiation therapy, in which radiation comes from a machine outside the
What To Expect After Treatment
In brachytherapy, tiny tubes of
radioactive material are
inserted into the vagina or the uterus. Ultrasound may be used to guide the placement. The radioactive tubes will be left in
place for 2 to 3 days. Brachytherapy may be done in the hospital or on an
External beam radiation therapy is usually done
in an outpatient treatment center. A typical therapy course is radiation
treatments 5 days a week for 4 to 6 weeks.
Radiation therapy may
cause side effects, including:
- Dryness, itching,
tightening, and burning in the vagina.
- Red, dry, tender, itchy
- Moist, weepy skin (later in the treatment).
loss in the treated area.
- Loss of
- Frequent and uncomfortable
- Reduced white blood cell count.
For long-term side effects, see the Risks section
Radiation therapy may make sexual intercourse uncomfortable.
You may have to wait until after treatment is finished to resume sexual
Why It Is Done
Radiation therapy is usually given
after surgery for endometrial cancer. Radiation may be recommended for women who have a high risk for the spread of
the cancer. If a woman cannot have surgery, she may receive radiation therapy
alone, but cure rates are slightly lower than with surgery.
Radiation therapy may be used at different points of treatment, depending
stage and grade of the endometrial cancer.
Endometrial cancer may recur. Radiation therapy may be used
to control symptoms and increase comfort. Radiation therapy may cure your
cancer if the cancer is confined to your vagina and radiation therapy has not
been used before.
How Well It Works
Usually radiation therapy for endometrial
cancer is given after a woman has surgery (hysterectomy and
bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy). Radiation therapy is used to treat a woman who has a high risk of having the cancer spread beyond the uterus. Radiation therapy
can lower the risk of the cancer coming back.
Radiation therapy may also be used in women who cannot have surgery because of their health. Radiation therapy without surgery helps these women, but it doesn't work as well as radiation and surgery.1
Having radiation therapy to any part of the
pelvis can cause side effects such as bladder irritation. These side effects
may stop after treatment is finished.
Other side effects of
radiation can include:
- Bowel obstruction.
- Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea.
- Vaginal scarring (vaginal fibrosis).
What To Think About
Internal radiation (vaginal radiation) causes physical changes to the vagina that may cause sexual problems, such as painful intercourse.
Radiation therapy to the pelvis
causes permanent sterility. If your cancer is in a very early stage and is low
grade (slow-growing) and you want to be able to have children, progestin
hormone therapy may be an option rather than a hysterectomy and/or radiation
Complete the special treatment information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.
National Cancer Institute (2010). Endometrial Cancer Treatment (PDQ): Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/endometrial/healthprofessional.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Ross Berkowitz, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology|
|Last Revised||November 29, 2010|