Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy

If you have cervical cancer, your doctor may recommend that you have radiation therapy. The radiation may be given following initial surgery, or it may be used in place of surgery. You may have only radiation therapy, or you may have radiation in combination with chemotherapy.

Recent research has shown that chemotherapy makes cervical cancer cells more sensitive to radiation and thus makes the treatment more effective. The chemotherapy may be given prior to radiation or at the same time. This combination of radiation and chemotherapy may be all the treatment you need, or you may need surgery as well.

Cervical cancer is treated with both external and internal radiation therapy. Some women will be treated with both types.

External radiation
External radiation therapy typically is given five days a week for a period of five or six weeks, using a machine that looks much like a regular X-ray machine. The procedure is not painful, and each treatment lasts only a few minutes.

You may have your radiation therapy at the SCCA clinic on an outpatient basis, under the supervision of SCCA/UW Medicine radiation oncologist Dr. Wui-Jin Koh, who specializes in treating women with gynecologic cancers.

Internal radiation
Internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy, is a procedure that delivers radiation to a cervical tumor using radioactive material--not X-rays--sealed in a rod that is inserted into the uterus.
Your doctor may recommend that you have about four of these treatments. This type of radiation is done at SCCA, also under the supervision of Dr. Koh.

Adding chemotherapy
SCCA's parent organizations, UW Medicine and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, have been active in conducting research that has shown that adding chemotherapy to radiation therapy makes the treatment more effective. This is an example of research conducted at the parent organizations that benefits patients at SCCA and elsewhere.

The National Cancer Institute says adding chemotherapy to radiation therapy dramatically improves the survival rates of women with advanced cervical cancer by as much as 30 to 50 percent.