Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells. A doctor who specializes in giving radiation therapy to treat cancer is called a radiation oncologist. Radiation therapy may be given alone, before surgery, or instead of surgery to shrink the tumor. Many women may be treated with a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
The most common type of radiation treatment is called external-beam radiation therapy, which is radiation given from a machine outside the body. When radiation treatment is given using implants, it is called internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy. A radiation therapy regimen (schedule) usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over a set period of time.
Side effects from radiation therapy may include fatigue, mild skin reactions, upset stomach, and loose bowel movements. Side effects of internal radiation therapy may include abdominal pain and bowel obstruction. Most side effects usually go away soon after treatment is finished. After radiation therapy, the vaginal area may lose elasticity so some women may also want to use a vaginal dilator, which is a plastic or rubber cylinder that is inserted into the vagina to prevent narrowing.
Sometimes, doctors advise their patients not to have sexual intercourse during radiation therapy. Women may resume normal sexual activity within a few weeks after treatment if they feel ready.