If you have uterine sarcoma, your first treatment is likely to be surgery. Then, after a pathologist examines your cancer, your doctor may recommend that you have radiation therapy. This may be a combination of external-beam radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy.
For a small minority of women with uterine sarcoma, doctors may advise against removing the cancer surgically. Your doctor may feel surgery is not the best treatment for you because of the size or location of the cancer or because you have other health problems. In this case, your doctor is likely to recommend that you be treated with radiation therapy.
External-Beam Radiation Therapy
Typically, external-beam radiation therapy is given five days a week (Monday to Friday) for five to six weeks using a machine called a linear accelerator. The procedure is not painful, and each treatment lasts only about five to seven minutes. Depending on your treatment needs, as a patient of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) you may receive external-beam radiation therapy for uterine sarcoma at one of these locations:
- SCCA Radiation Oncology at the SCCA clinic on Lake Union, under the supervision of UW Medicine radiation oncologist Wui-Jin Koh, MD, who specializes in treating women with gynecologic cancers
- SCCA Radiation Oncology at Northwest Hospital & Medical Center
- Cancer Center/Radiation Oncology Services at University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC)
For some uterine sarcomas, intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) may be an option. IORT is a method of delivering radiation therapy during surgery. It uses electron-beam radiation to treat tumors that cannot be completely removed from the pelvic or abdominal regions because they are attached to important organs or nerves. Or if cancer cells might have been left behind when a tumor was resected, surgeons can move normal structures out of the way during surgery to expose the area for this high-dose radiation treatment. IORT is a fast, effective treatment and uses only a fraction of the total radiation given over a traditional multi-week course of external-beam treatment. UWMC is the only hospital in the Pacific Northwest to offer IORT.
Internal Radiation Therapy
Internal radiation therapy, also known as brachytherapy, is a procedure that delivers radiation to a tumor using radioactive material placed inside the body. For uterine sarcoma, this means radioactive seeds are sealed in a rod that is inserted into the vagina or uterus.
Depending on your specific situation, you might need a high-dose radiation source that’s inserted for a short time (and then removed). Or you might need a low-dose radiation source that’s inserted and left for two to three days.
Learn more about external-beam radiation therapy, IORT, and internal radiation therapy, in the section on radiation oncology.
Radiation Plus Chemotherapy
Clinical trials are currently underway at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, an SCCA founding organization, and elsewhere to evaluate the combination of radiation therapy plus chemotherapy in the treatment of uterine sarcoma. All of our gynecologic oncologists and radiation oncologists are involved in this research.
Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy can cause side effects, which may depend on exactly how and where the radiation is given. Your team at SCCA will talk with you about the specific side effects you might experience, and we will help you prevent, reduce, or manage these effects as best as possible. You can find general information in the symptom management section.