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Radiation Therapy for Cervical Cancer

written by: Harry Sylvester • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 8/24/2010

Radiation therapy is a good way to eliminate cancer cells in the cervix. Two types of therapy include internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy) and external beam radiation therapy (EBRT). Learn how cancer cervical radiation therapy works along with side effects, prognosis, and follow-up care.

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    Cervical Cancer and its Causes

    Cancer cells can grow in the cervix resulting from accumulation of extra cells. Old cells should be replaced by new cells when the body Cervical Cancer needs them. However, new cells can grow although the body does not require them. The buildup of extra cells create excessive tissue known as a tumor, which can be malignant or benign.

    Cervical cancer occurs when malignant tumors exist in the cervical tissue. The cervix is located in the lower part of the uterus (womb) connecting with the top end of the vagina. The cervix is also known as the uterine cervix. The cancer develops gradually by forming dysplasia, which is the appearance of abnormal cells in the cervical tissue. Then, cancerous cells begin proliferating into the cervix and to adjacent organs. Click on image to enlarge.

    The following may be a cause of this type of cancer:

    • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

    • Weakened immune system

    • Smoking cigarettes

    • Having many children

    • Having first sexual contact at a very young age

    • Having multiple sexual partners

    • Consuming oral contraceptive pills for a long period

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    Symptoms

    Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer might not be easily observable unless you take routine check-ups. If you are detected with this cancer, symptoms that might appear include pelvic pain, vaginal hemorrhage, abnormal vaginal discharge, longer menstrual period, painful intercourse, and bleeding after menopause.

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    Treatment

    Cancer cervical radiation therapy is one effective treatment for this cancer by applying high-energy x-rays, gamma rays, protons, neurons, and other types of radiation to prevent cancerous cells from flourishing. When you suffer from this cancer in early stages, you find this therapy more useful than surgical procedure because it can eradicate cancer cells effectively.

    Below are two types of radiation therapy to help eradicate cancer cells:

    Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy)

    The doctor inserts a thin tube filled with radioactive substances into the vagina. The method focuses the radiation on the cancer cells to reduce the damage of neighboring tissues. Radioactive substances applied for internal radiation include phosphorus, iridium, iodine, cesium, and palladium. They remain in place to get rid of cancer cells for a while. When the doctor decides to remove them, the substances will no longer exist in your body. With that said, they cannot be exposed to other people.

    Side effects of the therapy include nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, fatigue, frequent urination, redness, and dryness in your skin.

    External beam radiation therapy (EBRT)

    Before the therapy, you need to take a simulation with the help of a machine to know exactly where the radiation beam will be aimed at on cancer cells. A radiation therapist marks the location of the cancer. In addition, the therapist might take computed tomography (CT scans) to identify precisely where the cancer cells are.

    The therapist then puts a special shield on you to protect other parts of your body so that they will not be exposed to radiation. He directs the machine to the exact location of the cancer, leaves the room, and switches the machine on when you are prepared. The whole process is safe and you can speak to the therapist via an intercom. Once it is done, the therapist might focus extra radiation on another area where the cancer first originated.

    Side effects of the EBRT include loss of appetite, diarrhea, fatigue, irritated skin, swollen legs, and frequent urination.

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    Prognosis

    The recovery of the cancer can include:

    • The existence of human papillomavirus (HPV)

    • Tumor size

    • Cervical cancer stages

    • Your general health including your age

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    Follow-up Care

    The cancer might reoccur even though you have it treated. Undetected cancer cells can reappear in your body after treatment. Therefore, you need to take routine check-ups such as chest x-rays and pap smears. Your doctor might recommend abstaining from sexual contact a few weeks after treatment.

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    References

    Medicinenet.com: What is the cervix? - http://www.medicinenet.com/cervical_cancer/article.htm#cervix

    Medicinenet.com: Radiation Therapy - http://www.medicinenet.com/cervical_cancer/page6.htm

    National Cervical Cancer Public Education Campaign: Cervical Cancer Facts - http://www.cervicalcancercampaign.org/ccfacts/radiation.html

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    Photo Credit

    Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

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    Disclaimer

    Please read this disclaimer regarding the information contained within this article.