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 x-ray. Aggressive chemotherapy is usually more effective, so radiation therapy is rarely used in this country as the main treatment for ovarian cancer. However, it can be useful in treating areas where the cancer has spread, either near the main tumor or in a distant organ, like the brain or spinal cord.

External beam radiation therapy

This is the most common type of radiation therapy for women with ovarian cancer. External radiation therapy is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is stronger. A machine focuses the radiation on the area affected by the cancer. The procedure itself is painless. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, but the setup time—getting you into place for treatment—usually takes longer. Treatments are given 5 days a week for several weeks.

Some common side effects include:

  • Skin changes – the skin in the treated area may look and feel sunburned or even blister and peel
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Vaginal irritation, sometimes with a discharge (if the pelvis is being treated)

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, tell your cancer care team. There may be ways to manage them.

Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy, also known as internal radiation, is another way to deliver radiation therapy. Instead of aiming radiation beams from outside the body, a device containing radioactive seeds or pellets is placed inside the body, near the cancer.  This is rarely done for ovarian cancer.

More information about radiation therapy

To learn more about how radiation is used to treat cancer, see Radiation Therapy.

To learn about some of the side effects listed here and how to manage them, see Managing Cancer-related Side Effects.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Cannistra SA, Gershenson DM, Recht A. Ch 76 - Ovarian cancer, fallopian tube carcinoma, and peritoneal carcinoma. In: DeVita VT, Hellman S, Rosenberg SA, eds. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.

Morgan M, Boyd J, Drapkin R, Seiden MV. Ch 89 – Cancers Arising in the Ovary. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Lichter AS, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKenna WG, eds. Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2014: 1592.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN)--Ovarian Cancer Including Fallopian Tube Cancer and Primary Peritoneal Cancer. V2.2018. Accessed February 5, 2018, from https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/ovarian.pdf

 

Last Medical Review: April 11, 2018 Last Revised: April 11, 2018

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.