Radiation Therapy for Gynaecological Cancers

Royal Hobart Hospital

Radiation Therapy for Gynaecological Cancers

Patient Information Brochure

Radiation Therapy for Gynaecological Cancers

Gynaecological cancers

Gynaecologic cancers include malignancies of the female genital tract involving the vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries.

One in 150 females will develop cervical cancer by the age of 75 years. About nine out of 10 ovarian cancers occur in women aged over 45.

Treating gynaecological cancers

The following information is provided to help you make an informed decision about your treatment.

Treatment for gynaecologic cancers depends on several factors, including the type of cancer, its extent (stage), its location and your overall health.

Sometimes, your cancer may be treated by using only one type of treatment. In other cases, your cancer may be best cured using a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

What is Radiation Therapy?

Radiation therapy, sometimes called radiotherapy, is the use of high-energy x-rays to safely and effectively kill cancer cells.

Radiation oncologists use radiation therapy to try to cure cancer, to control tumour growth or to relieve symptoms, such as pain.

Radiation therapy works within cancer cells by damaging their ability to multiply. When these cells die, the body naturally eliminates them.

A radiation-delivery machine (called a linear accelerator) focuses the radiation beam to a precise location for an exact period of time.

Radiation is given in daily treatments, Monday through Friday, for several weeks.

You may also require internal radiation, called brachytherapy, to complete your treatment. This involves insertion of radioactive sources into your uterus and vagina.

Possible side effects

The following side effects may occur during or within a few weeks of finishing treatment:

  • Fatigue or 'feeling tired' is common
  • The skin in the area being treated could become red and sore (like sunburn)
  • The treatment may cause nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss in the treated area. Hair will grow back after completion of treatment but may be thinner
  • During the last weeks of treatment, you may feel some irritation or soreness of the rectum. Your bowel movements may be more frequent, urgent, and painful, you may pass more wind than normal and you may notice blood or a clear discharge in your motions. Drink plenty of fluids, avoid spicy and fried foods
  • You may develop discomfort and a burning sensation when passing urine. You may pass urine more frequently and at night.
    Your desire to have a sexual relationship may lessen. The vagina may become dry and irritated during treatment and, as a result, having sex could cause bleeding and discomfort

Your doctor or nurse will provide advice and treatment or advice on how to deal with these side effects.

Long term side effects that may be permanent:

  • Changes in bone strength (may be at risk of breaking a hip)
  • Fatigue
  • Lymphoedema (swelling of the legs)
  • You may develop changes in your bowel motions, this can include urgency, rectal bleeding or a clear discharge in your motions
  • Passing urine more often and urgency can sometimes develop
  • Your vagina may become dryer, shorter and narrower.
  • It may be painful to have sex.
  • If you are premenopausal your periods will stop some time after radiotherapy has commenced and you will become menopausal
  • Radiotherapy to the pelvis will make you infertile

Our nurses are available to help you throughout your treatment and after completion. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

Helpful websites

Health insite

Cancer institute of NSW

Cancer Council Tasmania

Support Services

The following services are available to assist you during your treatment. Please ask staff for further details.

  • Social work
  • Dietitian
  • Cancer council transport
  • Look Good Feel Better program

Telephone Numbers

W.P Holman Clinic Reception
(03) 6166 8000

Radiation Therapy Scheduling
(03) 6166 2747

First Published: February 2010

Reviewed: February 2012