Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that starts in a woman's reproductive organs. Gynecologic cancers begin in different places within a woman's pelvis, which is the area below the stomach and in between the hip bones. Five main types of cancer affect a woman's reproductive organs: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar. As a group, they are referred to as gynecologic cancer. (A sixth type of gynecologic cancer is the very rare fallopian tube cancer.) Each gynecologic cancer is unique, with different signs and symptoms, different risk factors (things that may increase your chance of getting a disease), and different prevention strategies. All women are at risk for gynecologic cancers, and risk increases with age. When gynecologic cancers are found early, treatment is most effective.
Treatment for Gynecologic cancers depends on several factors, including the type of cancer, its extent (stage), its location and your overall health. It is important to talk with several cancer specialists before deciding on the best treatment for you, your cancer and your lifestyle.
Sometimes, your cancer may be cured by using only one type of treatment. In other cases, your cancer may be best cured using a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy, sometimes called radiotherapy, is the careful use of radiation to safely and effectively treat cancer. Your radiation oncologists will use radiation therapy to try to cure cancer, to control cancer growth or to relieve symptoms, such as pain. After your initial consultation, you, your radiation oncologist and the physics team will decide what will be the best way to treat your cancer.
External beam radiation therapy involves a series of daily outpatient treatments to accurately deliver radiation to the cancer.
3-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3D-CRT) combines multiple radiation treatment fields to deliver precise doses of radiation to the affected area. Tailoring each of the radiation beams to focus on the tumor delivers a high dose of radiation to the tumor and avoids nearby healthy tissue.
Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is the most recent advance in the delivery of radiation. IMRT improves on 3D-CRT by modifying the intensity of the radiation within each of the radiation beams. This allows more precise adjustment of radiation doses to the tissues within the target area
Brachytherapy (also called internal or intracavitary radiotherapy) involves placing radioactive sources in or next to the cancer. This is usually done at the same time or after external beam radiation therapy. Brachytherapy is very important in the treatment of vaginal, cervical and uterine cancers.
The side effects you may experience will depend on the area being treated, the type of radiation used and whether or not you also received chemotherapy. Before treatment, your doctor will describe what you can expect.
Some patients experience minor or no side effects and can continue their normal routines.
If at any time you develop side effects, tell your doctor or nurse. He or she can give you medicine to help.