Types of Treatment for Cervical Cancer:
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells. A doctor who specializes in giving radiation therapy to treat cancer is called a radiation oncologist. Radiation therapy may be given alone, before surgery, or instead of surgery to shrink the tumor.
The most common type of radiation treatment is called external-beam radiation therapy, which is radiation given from a machine outside the body. When radiation treatment is given using implants, it is called internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy.
A radiation therapy regimen, or schedule, usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over a set period of time that combines external and internal radiation treatments. This combined approach is the most effective to reduce the chances the cancer will come back, called a recurrence.
For early stages of cervical cancer, a combination of radiation therapy and low-dose weekly chemotherapy is often used. The goal of radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy is to increase the effectiveness of the radiation treatment.
This combination is given to control the cancer in the pelvis with the goal of curing the cancer without surgery. It may also be given to destroy microscopic cancer that might remain after surgery.
Side effects from radiation therapy may include fatigue, mild skin reactions, upset stomach, and loose bowel movements. Side effects of internal radiation therapy may include abdominal pain and bowel obstruction, although it is uncommon.
Most side effects usually go away after treatment is finished. After radiation therapy, the vaginal area may lose elasticity, so some women may also want to use a vaginal dilator, which is a plastic or rubber cylinder that is inserted into the vagina to prevent narrowing.
Women who have received external-beam radiation therapy will lose the ability to become pregnant, and unless the ovaries have been surgically moved out of the pelvis, premenopausal women will enter menopause.
Sometimes, doctors advise their patients not to have sexual intercourse during radiation therapy. Normal sexual activity can restart within a few weeks after treatment if the patient feels ready.