Making the Decision to Have Radiation Therapy for Cervical Cancer

If you have radiation therapy, you'll see a doctor called a radiation oncologist. This doctor sets the treatment plan. The plan details the kind of radiation therapy you'll have and how long the treatment will last.

Radiotherapy is a local therapy. That means it only affects the cancer cells in the treated area. Your doctor may suggest this type of treatment in these cases.

  • You have cervical cancer that has spread beyond the cervix.

  • You have a large cancer that is found only in the pelvis. When cancers are large, radiation therapy is the preferred treatment.

  • You need treatment after surgery to make sure that all the cancer cells are gone.

  • You have early-stage cervical cancer, so you can have radiation as an alternative to surgery. Radiation therapy is as effective as radical hysterectomy for treating small cervical cancers.

  • You cannot have surgery because you have other medical problems.

  • You need treatment to shrink a tumor before surgery. (There is no evidence that this is better than radiation alone.)

There are two ways to get radiation. You may get only one of these types of radiation or both of them.

  • External radiation comes from a machine. This is sometimes called EBRT, which stands for external-beam radiation therapy. Tumors are thicker in some places than others. Traditional radiation therapy sends the same strength of radiation across the whole tumor. That means some parts may get too little or too much radiation. A new form of external beam radiation therapy called intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) helps make sure the whole tumor gets the same amount of radiation. IMRT uses small beams of different strengths to better fit the tumor's shape and size.

  • Internal radiation is when radioactive material is placed inside you. The doctor puts it directly into, or near, the tumor. This type of radiation is also called brachytherapy. "Brachy" means "near" and refers to how close the radiation is to your tumor.

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