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 to have radiation treatment depends on how far the cancer has spread.
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 very much.
This treatment is given in the radiation suite of the hospital or care center, often starting about 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. How long the pellets stay in place depend on the form of brachytherapy you are getting.
- In one form, the pellets stay in place for days at a time, and the patient stays in the hospital (in bed) until they are removed. More than one treatment may be needed.
- In the other form, the pellets stay in place for less than an hour at a time. This treatment is often given weekly or even daily for at least 3 doses.
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 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 our document 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 detailed information about radiation therapy for endometrial cancer can be found in our document Endometrial Cancer.
Last Medical Review: 11/08/2013
Last Revised: 02/03/2014