McKesson Clinical Reference Systems: Women's Health Advisor 2002.2
Pelvic Cancer: Radiation Therapy
What is radiation therapy for cancer in the pelvis?
Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation (x-rays) to
shrink or destroy a tumor in the pelvis and/or help you feel
better. The pelvic cavity holds organs such as the rectum,
vagina, uterus, ovaries, and bladder. If you have cancer in
or near these organs, you may want to consider having this
Some alternatives to radiation therapy are:
- having chemotherapy (medicine used to destroy cancer
- having surgery to try to remove the cancer
- having a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and
- choosing not to have treatment.
You should ask your doctor about these choices. Also, you
should ask your radiation oncologist how your cancer may
affect you and what stage your cancer is in.
How should I prepare for this procedure?
Follow the doctor's instructions. You should wear clothes
that are easy to take off.
Two hours before you go in for treatment you should empty
your bladder. Then you should drink 4 cups of water or
other liquid and not empty your bladder again until the
treatment is over. This will help protect your bowel from
What happens during the procedure?
First you will need to take off the clothing covering your
pelvis. The radiation therapist will ask you to lie on a
treatment table like the one you used during the simulation
session. The therapist will use the marks made on your body
earlier to make sure the radiation is aimed at the correct
place(s). She or he will help you lie in the correct
position and leave you alone in the treatment room. The
therapist will watch you on a TV monitor and you can talk
with the therapist over an intercom. You will hear the
radiotherapy machine buzz for about 30 seconds as it works.
You may have one or more of these treatments from other
The treatment is painless. Each session takes between 15
and 30 minutes. When the treatment is done the therapist
will help you off the table and you may go home.
You will receive radiation therapy 5 days a week for 4 to
7 weeks. During the weeks of treatment the therapist will
weigh you and may do tests, such as blood cell counts, to
check the effect the radiation therapy is having on your
What happens after the procedure?
After getting radiation therapy treatments you may notice
some of the following side effects:
- Skin changes: The skin in the treatment area may become
red or peel like a sunburn. You may want to wear loose,
soft clothing. You should protect your skin from the
sun, using clothing and a sunscreen with a sun protection
factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Try to keep hot or cold
things, such as heating pads or cold packs, away from the
treated area. The staff will give you a skin lotion or
an ointment to use on the treatment area.
- Nausea: Radiation therapy causes some people to get sick
to their stomachs. You could try eating soda crackers,
dry popcorn, or warm soda to calm your stomach. If you
have loose stools or diarrhea, drinking clear liquids
could help. Certain medications may help.
- Sore bladder, rectum, or vagina: If your bladder is sore
and you have to urinate more often, you should drink
2 quarts of water each day. If your rectum is sore, you
should ask the radiation therapist for some ointment.
You may have a discharge from your vagina, or your vagina
may feel sore. Your doctor may give you some medicine
for these problems.
- Fatigue and loss of appetite: The more treatments you
have, the more rest you may need. You may also notice
you do not feel like eating very much. Your body may
have a hard time making red blood cells, so you should
eat more foods with iron. You should eat soft foods and
avoid very hot, very cold, or spicy foods and caffeine.
You could try high-calorie drinks or puddings to help
keep you from losing too much weight. Eating small meals
more often may be helpful.
After your last session, the therapist will wipe off the ink
marks on your body. You should talk with your radiation
oncologist and the staff about your diet and caring for your
skin and yourself.
The radiation keeps acting on the cancer for several weeks
after treatment. The side effects should go away a few
weeks after the end of therapy. Based on how you are doing,
you may have a radiation implant in your uterus later.
You should ask your radiation oncologist how active you can
be and how often you should return to the radiation and
oncology clinic for checkups. You should keep on seeing
your regular doctor for your other health care needs.
What are the benefits of this procedure?
The cancer may be destroyed or slowed down. When you have
other medical problems and can't have surgery, radiation
therapy is another good way to treat the cancer.
What are the risks associated with this procedure?
- There is a risk of hurting the healthy cells and forming
- Your skin could be injured or get darker.
- Your bowel or bladder could be injured.
- This treatment could make you sterile.
- Your vagina could become dry or shrink.
- If you are having both radiation therapy and
chemotherapy, you may have more side effects.
- The radiation therapy may not destroy all the cancer.
- The cancer may recur.
You should ask your doctor how these risks apply to you.
When should I call the doctor?
Call your doctor immediately if:
- You develop a fever.
- You start vomiting.
- You are having a lot of diarrhea.
Call you doctor during office hours if:
- You continue to have bowel or bladder irritation longer
than 2 to 3 weeks.