Ovarian Cancer

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Treating Ovarian Cancer TOPICS

Radiation therapy for ovarian cancer

Radiation therapy uses high energy x-rays or particles to kill cancer cells. These x-rays may be given in a procedure that is much like having a regular (diagnostic) x-ray. In the past radiation was used more often for ovarian cancer, but now radiation therapy is only rarely used in this country as the main treatment for this cancer.

External beam radiation therapy

In this procedure, radiation from a machine outside the body is focused on the cancer. This is the main type of radiation therapy used to treat ovarian cancer. Treatments are given 5 days a week for several weeks. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes and is similar to having a regular x-ray. As with a regular x-ray, the radiation passes through the skin and other tissues before it reaches the tumor. The actual time of exposure to radiation is very short, and most of the visit is spent getting the patient precisely positioned so that the radiation is aimed accurately at the cancer.

Some common side effects include:

  • Skin changes – the skin in the treated area may look and feel sunburned or even blister and peel
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea.
  • Vaginal irritation, sometimes with a discharge

These side effects improve after treatment is stopped. Skin changes gradually fade, and the skin returns to normal in 6 to 12 months.

If you are having side effects from radiation, discuss them with your cancer care team. There may be things you can do to obtain relief.

Brachytherapy

Radiation therapy also may be given as an implant of radioactive materials, called brachytherapy, placed near the cancer. This is rarely done for ovarian cancer.

Radioactive phosphorus

Radioactive phosphorus was used in the past, but is no longer part of the standard treatment for ovarian cancer. For this treatment, a solution of radioactive phosphorus is instilled into the abdomen. The solution gets into cancer cells lining the surface of the abdomen and kills them. It has few immediate side effects but can cause scarring of the intestine and lead to digestive problems, including bowel blockage.

More information on radiation therapy can be found in the radiation section of our Web site, or in our document Understanding Radiation Therapy: A Guide for Patients and Families.


Last Medical Review: 03/21/2013
Last Revised: 02/06/2014