Gynecologic Cancers may be treated with radiation therapy alone or in combination with chemotherapy and surgery.
There are four main ways radiation therapy is used:
- It can be the main treatment to cure the tumor.
- It can be combined with chemotherapy.
- It can be used to prevent recurrence.
- It can be used as a palliative treatment. It can be used that way for both defined tumors and tumors that have spread.
External Beam Radiation Therapy
The most common way to administer radiation is to carefully focus a beam of radiation from a machine outside the body. This is known as external beam radiation therapy. To reduce the risk of side effects, doctors can carefully pinpoint the exact dose needed and aim the beam with special techniques such as IMRT or brachytherapy (see below).
IMRT has revolutionized radiation treatment. IMRT technology precisely molds the radiation beam's intensity to the shape of the tumor. As the dose is precisely conformed, it allows the physician to deliver a higher dose to the tumor with significantly less damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
The radiation oncology experts at The Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment at St. Joseph Hospital use one of the most technically advanced forms of IMRT technology, called SmartBeam® IMRT, to deliver radiation with high precision. With SmartBeam®, the treatment planning and delivery process is highly involved. It is performed with sophisticated treatment planning computers using three-dimensional CT, PET/CT and MR images of the patient and computer-controlled radiation beam delivery.
SmartBeam® IMRT technology enables our team of highly-skilled radiation oncology experts to reduce the frequent side effects of radiation therapy, contributing to superior clinical outcomes and improved quality of life for patients.
High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation therapy that delivers high doses of radiation from a radioactive pellet - similar to a small bead - moving close to, or inside, the tumor(s) in the body. Radioactive pellets are typically inserted using a special applicator. This technique ensures the maximum radiation dose is delivered directly to cancerous tissues, while minimizing exposure to the surrounding healthy tissue.
High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy offers a faster way to deliver radiation treatments for some patients. For many cancer types, the entire HDR brachytherapy treatment is delivered over three to five doses or days, instead of five to seven weeks for external beam radiation therapy (EBRT). Depending on the type and stage of cancer, HDR brachytherapy may be combined with external beam radiation, which can vary treatment times.
Because cancer often affects organs that are essential to daily functioning, it is important for radiation treatment to be tightly focused on tumors to avoid serious side effects. To facilitate HDR brachytherapy treatment, hollow applicators are inserted by our doctors directly into tumors or body cavity to deliver a precise, three-dimensional dose of radiation. Before each treatment, physicians check the position of the applicators with millimeter precision.
Computer guidance controls how far the pellet goes into the applicators and how long the pellet stays in the applicators to release its radiation dose. HDR brachytherapy can provide an extremely precise treatment for cancer in just a few minutes and usually does not require any sedation. This type of radiation can be used for breast cancer and gynecological malignancies.
We currently have several clinical trials open and available for patients. These trials evaluate radiation therapy in comparison to different delivery modalities and in combination with chemotherapy in several different gynecologic malignancies. For more information on clinical trials, click here.