Radiation therapy is used for certain stages of cervical cancer, often along with surgery. Chemotherapy may be given at the same time as radiation treatment (chemoradiation) to improve survival rates. Chemoradiation may be used as the main treatment or after a hysterectomy.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy). Or it may come from radiation material (radioisotopes) in thin plastic tubes inserted through the vagina into the cervical area where the cancer cells are found.
Dealing with side effects of radiation
Your ability to have or enjoy sexual intercourse may also be affected. This is because radiation may cause changes to the cells lining the vagina (mucosa), making intercourse difficult or painful. A series of vaginal dilators, starting with a small one and progressing to a larger size, may be used after radiation therapy. Using the dilators can help by making the vaginal opening larger.
Radiation to treat cervical cancer may thin the bone and increase the risk of fractures in the pelvic area, including hip fractures. You can take steps to prevent thinning of the bone (osteoporosis), such as getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Also, try to prevent falls, which can lead to fractures. For more information, see the topic Osteoporosis.
Some women who have cervical cancer may be interested in taking part in research studies called clinical trials. Clinical trials are designed to find better ways to treat cancer patients. They are based on the most up-to-date information. Women who don't want standard treatments or are not cured using standard treatments may want to take part in clinical trials. These are ongoing in most parts of the United States and in some other countries for all stages of cervical cancer.
People sometimes use complementary therapies along with medical treatment to help relieve symptoms and side effects of cancer treatments. Some of the therapies that may be helpful include:
- Acupuncture. It can relieve pain and may help you deal with nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy.
- Meditation or yoga. These mind-body treatments relieve stress. They may help you feel better and cope with treatment.
- Light massage (not deep tissue or intense pressure) or biofeedback. These can ease tension.
- Breathing exercises or aromatherapy. They can help you relax and feel less anxious.
Before you try a complementary therapy, talk to your doctor about the possible value and potential side effects. Let your doctor know if you are already using any of these therapies. They are not meant to take the place of standard medical treatment.