Radiation FAQ


Will I lose my hair?
What is the difference between radiation and chemotherapy?
How long does the treatment last?
What kind of side effects can I expect?
Can radiation be used to treat any cancer?

Will I lose my hair?
No. Radiation affects only the part of the body being treated. It does not "circulate" throughout your whole body. Since treatment of gynecologic cancers never involves radiation to the head or scalp it does not cause hair loss. [back to top]
What is the difference between radiation and chemotherapy?
Radiation is a way of killing cancer cells with energized photons produced by a machine or radioactive material. It provides intense treatment usually to a very small defined area of your body. Chemotherapy drugs are delivered directly into the bloodstream and kill cancer cells by damaging necessary enzyme systems or reproductive mechanisms. Because they circulate throughout your body, chemotherapy agents can affect cancer cells almost anywhere they are hiding. [back to top]
How long does the treatment last?
The number of treatments is determined by the area being treated and the type of radiation administered. Sometimes a radiation source is placed directly into the vagina and requires only 1 or two sessions that last a few hours each. More often a beam of radiation is directed from a machine to your abdomen and is given daily for several (2-5) weeks. This type of radiation takes only a few ;minutes a day to receive. [back to top]
What kind of side effects can I expect?
The Radiation Oncologist will go into great detail about side effects when you meet with him/her. If you receive the most common type of external radiation give to your lower abdomen you can expect to have some diarrhea (which can be managed with medication), bladder and rectal irritation. These effects go away once the radiation is completed. The most common long term common side effects include vaginal dryness. [back to top]
Can radiation be used to treat any cancer?
No. Not all cancers are sensitive to radiation treatments. For instance, radiation is often an important part of the treatment of uterine adenocarcinoma but it is of no use in the management of uterine leiomyosarcoma.

Radiation is used to treat only a small part of the body at any given time. It, therefore, is not useful if cancer involves a large area of the body. So, primary radiation of an early cancer of the cervix makes sense because only a portion of the pelvis needs to be treated in order to destroy most of the cancer cells. On the other hand, cancer of the ovary typically spreads to many locations throughout the entire abdominal cavity early in its course. Radiation treatment of the entire abdomen is impractical and dangerous. For this reason radiation does not have a place in the modern treatment of ovarian cancer. [back to top]