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Making the Decision to Have Radiation Therapy for Endometrial Cancer

Your doctor may suggest radiation therapy to treat endometrial cancer if any of these statements is true for you:

  • You are not able to have surgery.

  • You recently had surgery for endometrial cancer. Having radiation after surgery is called adjuvant therapy. This can help lower the chances of the cancer coming back. It’s the most common reason to have radiation for endometrial cancer.

  • You are getting chemotherapy or hormone therapy to treat endometrial cancer, and the doctor thinks radiation may ease your symptoms.

There are two main ways of getting radiation:

  • External radiation. The radiation comes from a machine and is pointed at the skin over the tumor. This used to be the most common type used for treating endometrial cancer. Clinical trials have demonstrated that most women do not require this type of radiation therapy and can avoid potential radiation-related side effects.

  • Internal radiation (also called brachytherapy).  This is now the most common type of radiation therapy for endometrial cancer. It is usually given as adjuvant therapy after surgery. This method involves placing radioactive material inside your vagina, near the tumor. It can help lower the risk of the cancer returning without adding the risks associated with external beam radiation to your whole pelvis.

You will talk with a radiation oncologist, a doctor who specializes in both cancer and radiation. This doctor decides what your treatment will be and how long it will last. During your visit, ask what you can expect to feel during and after the treatment.  It is very important that your particular findings be put into context by an expert. Gynecologic oncologists are subspecialists with advanced training in the diagnosis, treatment, and surveillance of female cancers including endometrial cancer.

The goal of radiation therapy

Radiation is also called radiotherapy. Its goal is to kill or shrink cancer cells. High-energy rays or radioactive material is directed at cancer cells to harm them and stop their growth. The goal of radiation for uterine cancer depends on when you have it:

  • When you have radiation after surgery, the goal is to help make sure that all cancer cells that may not have been removed are killed.

  • If you have radiation before, during, or after chemotherapy or hormone therapy, the goal is to ease symptoms.