Radiotherapy for ovarian cancer | Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter
 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Radiotherapy for ovarian cancer

Doctors don't often use radiotherapy to treat ovarian cancer. But occasionally they may suggest it after surgery for stage 1c or stage 2 ovarian cancers. This is to help kill off any cancer cells left behind and so lower the risk of the cancer coming back. You have radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department. You usually have treatment once a day, from Monday to Friday, with a rest over the weekend. A course of treatment usually lasts for 3 or 4 weeks. 

For advanced ovarian cancer, you may have just a few radiotherapy treatments to try to shrink tumours and reduce symptoms. This is called palliative radiotherapy.

Planning radiotherapy

Before you begin your treatment, the radiotherapy team carefully plan your external beam radiotherapy. This means working out how much radiation you need to treat the cancer and exactly where you need it. Your planning appointment may take from 15 minutes up to a couple of hours. You will have a planning CT scan. After your planning session you may have to wait a few days before you start treatment. 

Having radiotherapy

The radiotherapy machine may be fixed in one position or able to rotate around your body to give treatment from different directions. Your radiographers will explain what you will see and hear. You can't feel radiotherapy when you actually have the treatment. It takes anything from 1 minute to several minutes. It is important to lie in the same position each time, so the radiographers may take a little while to get you ready.

External radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive. It is perfectly safe to be with other people, including children, throughout your course of treatment.

Side effects

The side effects of having radiotherapy to your abdomen or the area between your hips (your pelvis) include diarrhoea, bladder inflammation (radiation cystitis) and feeling sick. There are also some long term side effects such as changes in your bowel habit and the need to pass urine more often.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating ovarian cancer section.

 

 

When radiotherapy is used

Doctors don't often use radiotherapy to treat ovarian cancer. The main treatment is surgery, and most women will also have chemotherapy. 

Radiotherapy is sometimes recommended for stage 1c and stage 2 cancer after surgery. This is to help kill off any cancer cells left behind and so lower the risk of the cancer coming back. Your doctor will only suggest this if there are very small areas of cancer left in your pelvis and there is no sign of cancer in your abdomen.

For advanced ovarian cancer, your doctor may use radiotherapy to try to shrink tumours and reduce symptoms. This is called palliative radiotherapy.  You can have this treatment to any part of the body where the cancer is causing problems.

 

How you have radiotherapy

You have radiotherapy in the hospital radiotherapy department. If you have radiotherapy after surgery for early stage cancer, you usually have treatment once a day, from Monday to Friday, with a rest over the weekend. 

A course of treatment usually lasts for 3 or 4 weeks. For advanced ovarian cancer, you may have just a few radiotherapy treatments aimed at the area of the cancer.

 

Planning radiotherapy

Before you begin your treatment, the radiotherapy team carefully plan your external beam radiotherapy. This means working out how much radiation you need to treat the cancer and exactly where you need it. Your planning appointment may take from 15 minutes up to a couple of hours. You will have a planning CT scan. The scan shows the cancer and the structures around it.

CT scanner

You lie on the scanner couch with the treatment area exposed. The radiographers will put some markers on your skin. You need to lie very still. Once you are in position the radiographers move the couch up and through the scanner. The scanner is a doughnut shape. The radiographers leave the room and the scan starts. It takes up to 5 minutes. You won't feel anything. The radiographers watch from the next door room.

Before the planning appointment you may also have other scans, such as MRI scans. Your treatment team can feed the other scans into the planning scanner.

Ink marks

Once the treatment team has planned your radiotherapy, they may put ink marks on your skin to make sure they treat exactly the same area every day. They may also make pin point sized tattoo marks in these areas. 

We have information about radiotherapy skin markings.

After your planning session

You may have to wait a few days or up to 2 weeks before you start treatment. During this time the physicists and your radiotherapy doctor decide the final details of your plan. Your doctor will plan the areas that need treatment and outline areas to limit the dose to or avoid completely. They call this contouring. Then the physicists and staff called dosimetrists plan the treatment very precisely using advanced computers.

 

Having radiotherapy

Radiotherapy machines are very big. The machine may be fixed in one position or able to rotate around your body to give treatment from different directions. Before your first treatment your radiographers will explain what you will see and hear. The treatment rooms usually have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music.

You can't feel radiotherapy when you actually have the treatment. It takes anything from 1 minute to several minutes. It is important to lie in the same position each time, so the radiographers may take a little while to get you ready.

A photo of a linear accelerator, which gives radiotherapy

Once you are in the right position the staff leave you alone in the room for a few minutes. They watch you carefully through a window or on a closed circuit television screen. They may ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths during the treatment.

Our page about having external radiotherapy has a video about having radiotherapy that you may want to watch.

External radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive. It is perfectly safe to be with other people, including children, throughout your course of treatment.

 

Radiotherapy side effects

Radiotherapy to the abdomen or pelvis usually causes a few side effects. The short term effects can include

  • Diarrhoea
  • An inflamed bladder (or radiation cystitis)
  • Feeling sick

All these side effects usually disappear within a few weeks of finishing your treatment. Radiotherapy also causes tiredness for many people. The tiredness increases as you go through your treatment and continues for a few weeks after you have finished treatment.  If you have radiotherapy for symptoms (palliative radiotherapy) the side effects are likely to be very mild.

There is more about all these side effects in the section about stomach or pelvic radiotherapy side effects.

 

Possible long term side effects

These side effects can come on any time from a few months to several years after your treatment has finished. Normal tissues grow very slowly. So the effects of the radiation take a long time to show up. You may find you have bowel changes or need to pass urine more often.

Doctors can't usually tell who will be most at risk of side effects. Some people just seem to be more sensitive to radiation than others. Research is going on to try to find a way of telling this in advance so that those people can have lower treatment doses. Tell your doctor if you have had bowel disease or previous surgery to the abdomen. They may then be able to take precautions to reduce your risk of side effects. If you are worried about long term side effects, you should certainly ask your doctor about the risks from your treatment.

Bowel changes

You may find you have diarrhoea or constipation. If you do, tell your radiotherapy doctor. Your problems will need to be investigated to make sure they are from your radiotherapy treatment. If they are, you may be able to take medicines to help regulate your bowels. You could also see a dietician to get some advice on how changes to your diet may help.

Passing urine more often

Radiotherapy can make your bladder less stretchy. So it won't hold as much urine as it used to and you will have to go to the toilet more often. Do tell your doctor who may be able to refer you to a nurse who specialises in continence problems. With help, you may be able to train your bladder so that you can pass urine a little less often.

 

More information about radiotherapy

The radiotherapy section gives more general information about this treatment including

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Our general organisations page gives details of people who can provide information about radiotherapy. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. 

Our cancer and treatments reading list has information about books, leaflets and other resources about radiotherapy treatment.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

Rate this page:
Submit rating

 

Rated 5 out of 5 based on 9 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 7 April 2016