Radiation therapy for cervical cancer

Also called radiotherapy, radiation therapy for cervical cancer uses x-rays to kill or damage cancer cells. The radiation is targeted at the parts of the body with cancer or areas the cancer cells might have spread to. Treatment is carefully planned to do as little harm as possible to healthy tissues.

You may have radiation therapy on its own as the main treatment for cervical cancer, or you may have it after surgery to help get rid of any remaining cancer cells. Women with cervical cancer that has spread to the tissues or lymph nodes surrounding the cervix will usually have radiation therapy in combination with chemotherapy (chemoradiation) to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back.

There are two main ways of delivering radiation therapy: externally or internally. Most women who have radiation therapy for cervical cancer will have both types.

Learn more about:


Listen to our podcasts on New Cancer Treatments – Immunotherapy and Targeted Therapy and Making Treatment Decisions


External beam radiation therapy

In external beam radiation therapy, a machine precisely directs radiation beams from outside the body to the cervix, lymph nodes and other organs that need treatment. The initial planning session will include a CT scan to work out where to direct the radiation beams, and may take up to 45 minutes. The actual treatment takes only a few minutes each time.

You will probably have external radiation therapy as daily treatments, Monday to Friday, over 4–6 weeks as an outpatient. You will lie on a table under the radiation therapy machine. Before the machine is turned on, the radiation therapist will leave the room, but they will be able to talk to you through an intercom and they will watch you on a screen while you have treatment. The treatment itself is painless.

External beam radiation therapy and HDR brachytherapy will not make you radioactive. It is safe for you to be with both adults and children after your treatment sessions.


Internal radiation therapy

Internal radiation therapy is known as brachytherapy. It is a way of delivering radiation therapy from inside your body directly to the tumour, while reducing the amount of radiation delivered to nearby organs such as the bowel and bladder. The main type of internal radiation therapy used for cervical cancer is high-dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy. With HDR, bigger doses are given in a few treatments.

During treatment

You will probably have 3–4 sessions over 2–4 weeks. You will be given a general or spinal anaesthetic at each brachytherapy session.

Applicators are used to deliver the radiation source to the cancer. They are available in different sizes and your radiation oncologist will examine you to choose a suitable applicator for your situation. The applicator is placed into the cervix under the guidance of an ultrasound to make sure it is in the right place.

To hold the applicator in place, you may have gauze padding put into your vagina, and a stitch or two in the area between the vulva and the anus (perineum). You will also have a small tube (catheter) inserted to empty your bladder of urine during treatment.

You will have a CT or MRI scan to check the position of the applicator. This scan helps your doctor deliver the brachytherapy to the correct area. Once your doctor has completed the treatment plan, the radiation source will be placed into the applicator for 10–20 minutes. If you have a general anaesthetic, this will happen while you are asleep.

If you’ve had surgery to remove the cervix and uterus (hysterectomy), your doctor may want to deliver some extra radiation to the top of the vagina. An applicator will be placed into your vagina. You will not need to have a general anaesthetic or gauze padding.

After treatment

The applicator is taken out after the radiation dose is delivered. If several sessions are needed, the applicator will be reinserted each time.


Chemoradiation

When radiation therapy is combined with chemotherapy, it is known as chemoradiation. The chemotherapy drugs make the cancer cells more sensitive to radiation therapy.

If you have chemoradiation, you will usually receive chemotherapy once a week a few hours before the radiation therapy appointment. Side effects of chemoradiation include fatigue; diarrhoea; needing to pass urine more often or in a hurry; cystitis; dry and itchy skin in the treatment area; nausea; and low blood counts. Low numbers of bloods cells may cause anaemia, infections or bleeding problems. Talk to your treatment team about ways to manage the side effects of chemoradiation.


Video: What is radiation therapy?

Learn more about radiation therapy in this short video.


Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on cervical cancer


    Understanding Cervical Cancer

  • 869 kB

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059

Kobo

To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.


This information was last reviewed in September 2019
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum

Need legal and financial assistance?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment

Cancer information

Making cancer treatment decisions
Decision-making steps, consent and second opinions

What is radiation therapy?
Key questions about radiation therapy as part of cancer treatment

TOP BACK TO TOP