Radiation therapy for ovarian cancer
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is rarely used to treat ovarian cancer because this cancer usually involves too many organs and too much tissue in the area for radiation therapy to work well. If you need radiation therapy, your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the type and amount of radiation, and when and how it is given. You may also receive other treatments.
Radiation therapy is given for different reasons. You may have radiation therapy:
- if you cannot have chemotherapy because of your older age and health problems
- to treat small areas of recurrent or metastatic cancer
- to relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced ovarian cancer (called palliative radiotherapy)
External beam radiation therapy
During external beam radiation therapy, a machine directs radiation through the skin to the tumour and some of the tissue around it.
Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for ovarian cancer, but everyone’s experience is different. Some women have many side effects. Other women have few or none at all.
During radiation therapy, the healthcare team protects healthy cells in the treatment area as much as possible. But damage to healthy cells can happen and may cause side effects. If you develop side effects, they can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after radiation therapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after radiation therapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.
Side effects of radiation therapy will depend mainly on the size of the area being treated, the specific area or organs being treated, the total dose of radiation and the treatment schedule. Some common side effects of radiation therapy used for ovarian cancer are:
- skin problems
- nausea and vomiting
- excessive gas
- bladder problems including discomfort, urge to urinate often and bleeding
- vaginal irritation and discharge
- treatment-induced menopause
Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from radiation therapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.
Questions to ask about radiation therapy
Seeing my sister Erin – a young mother – struggle with the emotional blow and then the physical toll of cancer treatment made me want to do something to help women feel confident.
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