Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer Overview

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Treating Endometrial Cancer TOPICS

Radiation therapy for endometrial cancer

Radiation therapy is treatment with high energy rays (such as x-rays) to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. The radiation may come from outside the body (external radiation). Or it can come from radioactive materials placed near the tumor. (This is called brachytherapy.) In some cases, both types of radiation treatment are used.

How much of the pelvis needs radiation treatment depends on how far the cancer has spread.

Vaginal brachytherapy

With this method, radioactive pellets or seeds are put into a small tube that is placed in the vagina. This is most often used to treat the upper part of the vagina after surgery. One advantage with brachytherapy is that it does not affect other areas such as the bladder or rectum as much as external radiation.

External radiation

This method of giving radiation is like a regular x-ray, but it takes longer. It is most often given 5 days a week for 4 to 6 weeks. Treatments usually take less than a half-hour, but the daily trips for treatment may be tiring.

Side effects of radiation treatment

Common short-term side effects include:

  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Upset stomach
  • Loose bowels (diarrhea)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Skin changes like redness and soreness
  • Bladder irritation, leading to problems passing urine
  • Irritation of the vagina, leading to discomfort, drainage (a discharge), or even open sores
  • Low blood counts

Radiation can also cause long-term side effects, including bowel and bladder problems and sexual side effects.

Pelvic radiation can also lead to a blockage of the fluid draining from the leg. This can cause severe swelling known as lymphedema. This is more common if pelvic lymph nodes were removed during the surgery to remove the cancer. For more on lymphedema, see Understanding Lymphedema: For Cancers Other than Breast Cancer.

If you are having side effects from radiation, talk to your doctor. There are often things you can do to get relief from these problems or prevent them from happening.

More information about radiation therapy for endometrial cancer can be found in Endometrial Cancer.

Last Medical Review: 02/09/2015
Last Revised: 02/04/2016