Gynecologic Cancer – The Radiation Elephant in the Room


Gynecologic cancers include malignancies of the female genital tract involving the vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, Fallopian tubes or ovaries. A common treatment involves radiation therapy (also known as radiotherapy). Radiation therapy involves treatment with high energy rays (such as x-rays) with the intent to shrink or kill cancer cells.
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The Radiation Elephant in the Room: Patients share that they want to do any treatments they can to save their lives, but often aren’t prepared to deal with the after-effects of treatment such as radiation. Radiation therapy has a significant impact on the body. It’s difficult to discuss, but it’s an important aspect of treatment that should be known and discussed. In many cases, patients feel the focus is very heavy on cancer treatment, but they want support after the treatments.

This is an introduction to general information about radiation effects. In future posts on this topic, the ultimate goal is to provide resources for ways to cope and treat/manage long-term effects. This involves both psychological, medical, and physical treatments. There’s hope for improving quality of life.
  • What is radiation therapy in relation to GYN Cancer?
  • What are the long-term effects of radiation to the body, particularly to bowel, bladder, and sexual function?
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Here are some helpful links: 

Radiation Therapy in Gynecologic Cancer:
“Primary radiotherapy can provide an opportunity for cure for women with unresectable, locally advanced disease; for women with resectable disease in whom the risk of surgical morbidity is unacceptably high; and for women with medical risk factors that contraindicate primary surgical therapy. However, for women with distant metastatic disease at presentation, cure is unlikely, although palliative radiotherapy frequently improves a patient’s quality of life when used to relieve symptoms.” Kohler, MF 2011
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Radiation Effects – General Explanation: 

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/radiation-therapy-and-you/page8

Research Abstract: Late symptoms in long-term gynecological cancer survivors after radiation therapy: 

http://www.nature.com/bjc/journal/v105/n6/full/bjc2011315a.html?WT.ec_id=BJC-201109

Conclusion Highlighted:

“Gynaecological cancer survivors previously treated with pelvic radiation report a higher occurrence of symptoms from the urinary and gastrointestinal tract as well as lymph oedema, sexual dysfunction and pelvic pain compared with non-irradiated control women. Health-care providers need to actively ask patients about specific symptoms in order to provide proper diagnostic investigations and management.”

** There are numerous organization dedicated to helping patients diagnosed with GYN Cancers. Please share comments regarding these organizations and this will be included in future posts.

3 thoughts on “Gynecologic Cancer – The Radiation Elephant in the Room

  1. Hi, thanks for this GREAT site! 30 years ago I had a radical hysterectomy, lymphectomy and 2 months of pelvic radiation to treat advanced cervical cancer with spread to lymph nodes. I am an active, fit 59 year old and am experiencing bladder leakage, irritable bowel and bowel control issues as well as a vaginal stricture that hinders penetration for satisfying sex with a partner. I’m seeing a gynecology oncologist next week to see if he can release/remove the obstruction this irradiated scar tissue (stricture) has formed in my vagina. Also, to ask about my bladder & bowel issues. I would like to hear from anyone else that presents with the same or similar issues. Again, thanks so much for this forum.

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