Radiation Therapy for Gynecologic Cancer
Radiation oncologists at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center work together with doctors who specialize in different medical areas to provide treatment that is individualized and well-coordinated.
Learn more about comprehensive gynecologic cancer services provided by UW Health.
UW Health radiation oncologists treat several types of gynecologic cancers. This includes cancers that begin in the uterus, cervix, vulva and vagina. Your radiation oncologist will discuss your condition and make recommendations for your care.
Learn about radiation oncology at the UW Carbone Cancer.
Radiation Treatment Options
Beams from special X-ray machines, called linear accelerators, are aimed at the tumor from outside the body. During your treatment, a beam of radiation (high-energy x-rays) is directed through the skin to destroy cancerous cells. Treatment is typically given on a daily basis, from Monday through Friday, over a period of about 5 to 6 weeks. In some cases, external beam radiation therapy may be given together with other treatment types, such as brachytherapy or chemotherapy.
High Dose Rate Brachytherapy
Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation treatment. The radiation source is placed inside the body, as close to the tumor as possible. With high dose rate brachytherapy, the source says inside the body for a short period of time, and is then removed. For women with gynecologic cancers involving the uterus or cervix, brachytherapy is often a very important part of treatment. Brachytherapy can be done alone or in combination with other treatment types.
- Vaginal High Dose Rate Brachytherapy: Some women have their uterus removed as part of the treatment for uterine or cervical cancer. Brachytherapy treatments may then be recommended to the vagina. Vaginal brachytherapy is a method of giving radiation to a small area. This involves the placement of one or two small hollow tubes inside the vagina. These tubes are called applicators. A radioactive source will travel into the applicator from a storage unit though thin cables. It will remain in the vaginal applicators for 3 to 15 minutes, until the correct amount of radiation is given. Your doctor prescribes the dose of radiation you receive. Most patients will have three to five treatments with one or two treatments each week. Each treatment takes about one hour. You are not radioactive after the treatment.
The applicators used for vaginal brachytherapy vary in size and shape. Your doctor will choose the one that fits you best. Below is a drawing of the applicators most often used. The drawing also shows where they are placed.
- Cervical High Dose Rate Brachytherapy. Some women who do not have their uterus removed may be treated with brachytherapy treatments directed at the uterus, cervix, and vagina.This delivers a high dose of radiation to a small area. Small, hollow instruments are placed by your doctor. The drawing below shows some of the commonly used instruments. It also shows where the instruments are placed in the body. They vary in size and shape. Your doctor will choose the ones that are right for you.
A tiny radioactive source, attached to a wire, is inserted through the instruments. The source is left in place for a short period, most often 5 to 20 minutes. The source then moves out of the instruments and goes back into its storage container. The doctor gently removes the instruments and then the treatment is complete.
Most patients have 5 treatments that are scheduled 1 to 2 times per week. Each treatment takes three to six hours from start to finish. This is a surgical procedure and is done under anesthesia. Anesthesia is given by doctors and nurses. You will fall deeply asleep and remain comfortable. Please note, patients who get anesthesia are not allowed to drive for 24 hours. On the day of your procedure, a friend or family member will need to drive you home.
Low Dose Rate Brachytherapy
Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation treatment. The radiation source is placed inside the body, as close to the tumor as possible. For women with gynecologic cancers involving the uterus or cervix, brachytherapy is often a very important part of treatment. Brachytherapy can be done alone or in combination with other treatment types.
With low dose rate brachytherapy, the source says inside the body for about 2 to 3 days, and is then removed. Your entire hospital stay may be 4 to 7 days, based on your treatment plan. You will be receiving specialized care, and time with visitors will be limited.
More information regarding radiation therapy for gynecologic cancer is available online through the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology (ASTRO).
Radiation Oncology Doctors