NYU Langone doctors use external beam radiation therapy, stereotactic body radiation therapy, or brachytherapy to manage cervical cancer.
External Beam Radiation Therapy
External beam radiation therapy is delivered from outside the body to the tumor using a machine called a linear accelerator. This machine rotates around you during therapy, delivering radiation to the tumor from different directions, while minimizing the radiation exposure in nearby healthy tissue.
At NYU Langone, our radiation oncologists use a variety of technologies to deliver highly targeted radiation therapy, tailored to the size, shape, and location of the tumor. For example, they often use an approach called intensity modulated radiation therapy, which allows them to break up the radiation beams into many smaller doses of different strengths, or “minibeams,” so they can precisely treat the cancer.
Some forms of external beam radiation therapy require that the linear accelerator start and stop for treatment adjustments. But at NYU Langone, doctors can offer a technology called volumetric modulated arc therapy, in which the machine moves around you in one or several nonstop, 360-degree rotations. This approach lets doctors adjust the angle and intensity of the radiation beams as they are delivered. And because this therapy proceeds without interruption, treatment sessions may be shorter than with other approaches.
Usually, external beam radiation therapy is given once a day, five days a week, for several weeks.
Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy
Stereotactic body radiation therapy delivers a few high doses of carefully targeted radiation beams to the tumor over several days. Your doctor may use this approach for small cervical cancer tumors or for those that return after other treatments. As with other forms of radiation therapy at NYU Langone, this approach uses imaging guidance to target the tumor while avoiding healthy tissue.
In brachytherapy, doctors temporarily place radioactive beads or pellets inside the body to treat cervical cancer. Often, this internal radiation is combined with external beam radiation therapy to manage cervical tumors.
With high-dose-rate brachytherapy to manage cervical cancer, doctors at NYU Langone place the beads inside your body using either an intracavitary or an interstitial approach.
During intracavitary brachytherapy for women who no longer have a uterus, the doctor places an applicator with radioactive material into the vagina for several minutes, after which it is removed. In women who have a uterus, the radiation is placed in the upper vagina and in the uterus. Doctors may use a local anesthetic to ensure your comfort during the procedure.
If the cancer has spread to an area of the pelvis not easily accessed with the intracavitary approach, the doctor may use the interstitial approach. This involves placing the radiation directly in or near the tumor using a needle or catheter, which is a thin hollow tube. This procedure requires either general anesthesia or regional anesthesia, in which an anesthetic is inserted into the spine with a hollow needle and catheter and numbs the pelvic area.
Our doctors may use brachytherapy for several minutes at a time over the course of a few days or weeks on an outpatient or inpatient basis.