Treatment Options for Gynecologic Cancers
Treatment for gynecologic cancer depends on several factors, including the type of cancer, its extent (stage), its location and your overall health. It is important to talk with several cancer specialists before deciding on the best treatment for you, your cancer and your lifestyle.
- A gynecologic oncologist is a doctor who specializes in surgically removing gynecologic cancers.
- A radiation oncologist is a doctor specially trained to treat cancer with radiation therapy.
- A medical oncologist is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with drugs (chemotherapy).
Sometimes, your cancer may be cured by using only one type of treatment. In other cases, your cancer may be best cured using a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy, sometimes called radiotherapy, is the careful use of radiation to safely and effectively treat cancer.
- Radiation oncologists use radiation therapy to try to cure cancer, to control cancer growth or to relieve symptoms, such as pain.
- Radiation therapy works within cancer cells by damaging their ability to multiply. When these cells die, the body naturally eliminates them.
- Healthy tissues are also affected by radiation, but they are able to repair themselves in a way cancer cells cannot.
External Beam Radiation Therapy
External beam radiation therapy involves a series of daily outpatient treatments to accurately deliver radiation to the cancer. Each treatment is painless and is similar to getting an X-ray. They are often given in a series of daily sessions, each taking less than half an hour, Monday through Friday, for five to six weeks. In some cases, you may receive more than one treatment in a day, often several hours apart.
- 3-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3D-CRT) combines multiple radiation treatment fields to deliver precise doses of radiation to the affected area. Tailoring each of the radiation beams to focus on the tumor delivers a high dose of radiation to the tumor and avoids nearby healthy tissue.
- Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is the most recent advance in the delivery of radiation. IMRT improves on 3D-CRT by modifying the intensity of the radiation within each of the radiation beams. This allows more precise adjustment of radiation doses to the tissues within the target area.
Brachytherapy (also called internal or intracavitary radiotherapy) involves placing radioactive sources in or next to the cancer. This is usually done at the same time or after external beam radiation therapy. Brachytherapy is very important in the treatment of vaginal, cervical and uterine cancers.
High-dose rate brachytherapy is given over the course of several minutes, but the entire procedure typically takes a few hours. You may be able to go home immediately after this treatment.
Depending of the type of cancer you have, you may need to have several sessions of brachytherapy to cure your cancer.