Jondavid Pollock, MD, PhD
Radiation therapy uses high energy x-rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing. The strength of the x-rays used in radiation therapy is significantly stronger than that of a normal chest x-ray. The strength of these rays destroys a cell’s ability to reproduce.
There are two types of radiation therapy, and some people receive both types. They are:
External beam radiation therapy—The rays are directed at the affected area from the outside of your body. This procedure is like having an x-ray. If you receive external radiation therapy, you will go to the hospital or clinic each day for treatment. Usually, treatments are given 5 days a week for 5 to 6 weeks. At the end of the treatment, the tumor site often gets an extra dose of radiation.
Implant/internal radiation—This treatment gives additional, high-dose radiation directly to the area affected by the cancer. A capsule containing radioactive materials is placed directly into the cervix and another carrier may be placed in your vagina against the outside of the cervix.
This capsule is usually left in place for 1 to 3 days, and the treatment may be repeated several days over the course of 1 to 2 weeks. You will stay in the hospital while the implants are in place.
At some cancer centers, the radioactive implants can be performed over minutes instead of days, and there is no reason for an inpatient hospitalization. This latter method is called high dose rate brachytherapy. It is as effective as the older, more traditional low dose rate method, but it is far more convenient and less expensive.
Possible side effects include:
You will not lose hair on your head because of radiation to your pelvis.
Developing blood clots is a risk primarily during the hospitalization, and your physician will treat you in advance with a blood thinner to help prevent this complication.
Call your doctor if you experience any of the following:
Cervical cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 7, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.
American Cancer Society
website. Available at:
Accessed January 3, 2014.
National Cancer Institute
website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.gov. Updated January 3, 2014.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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