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Cervical Cancer Radiation Side Effects

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Cervical Cancer Radiation Side Effects
Cervical cancer radiation can cause side effects. Photo Credit beautiful woman image by Mat Hayward from Fotolia.com

Women with cervical cancer--a disease in which abnormal cells begin to grow and divide in the cervix--may choose radiation therapy to combat this type of cancer. Radiation therapy is a form of cancer treatment that utilizes high energy x-rays to kill and prevent the growth of cancer cells. It is important for women to discuss the potential cervical cancer radiation side effects with an oncologist before beginning treatment.

Stomach Upset

The cervix is a part of the female reproductive tract that serves as a passageway into the uterus and is located in the lower pelvic region. When radiation therapy is applied to the abdominal area, patients can experience significant irritation along the digestive tract. As a result, radiation therapy for cervical cancer can cause side effects of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea in certain women. Typically, these side effects are temporary and resolve within a few months following the end of radiation therapy. Patients who experience persistent or new stomach-related side effects after stopping radiation therapy should contact a doctor for further evaluation and care.

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The bladder is a small organ that holds urine and sits near the front of the lower abdomen. Women receiving cervical cancer radiation treatment can experience bladder inflammation--also called cystitis--as a side effect of this form of therapy. Side effects of cystitis include pain or burning during urination and increased urinary urgency or frequency. These side effects can occur within two weeks following the onset of radiation therapy and may persist for a month after radiation treatment is completed, explains Ruth Collins, an advanced practice nurse in the Research Division of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Vaginal Irritation or Infection

Radiation therapy for cervical cancer can affect the normal elasticity of the vaginal wall. As a result, women who undergo this type of treatment can experience vaginal changes or irritation as side effects. The vagina can become narrower and shorter, which can lead to discomfort during sexual intercourse. Certain women may also experience vaginal inflammation or unusual redness that may be accompanied by sensations of tenderness or pain. Cervical cancer radiation can also increase a woman's risk of developing a vaginal infection during treatment.

Menopause and Infertility

Cervical cancer radiation therapy also affects the ovaries, two organs within the female reproductive tract that are located on either side of the uterus. Women who have not already gone through menopause will experience this change of life within three months of beginning treatment, explain health officials at Macmillan Cancer Support, a cancer charity dedicated to providing medical and financial support to cancer patients. Once menopause begins, affected women will gradually stop experiencing a monthly menstrual cycle, which means that these women will no longer be able to become pregnant--a condition called infertility. Additional side effects of menopause can include hot flashes, mood changes, vaginal dryness and decreased sexual libido.


Increased fatigue is a common side effect of radiation, especially among patients receiving abdominal radiation therapy. Fatigue may cause women to become less attentive or focused during the day and may affect their ability to attend work or school.

Skin Irritation

Radiation therapy for cervical cancer can irritate the skin of the abdomen. If this occurs, women may experience temporary soreness or reddening of the skin at the site of radiation treatment. The affected skin may also appear dry and may begin to itch.

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author image Rae Uddin
Rae Uddin has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2004. She specializes in scientific journalism and medical and technical writing. Her work has appeared in various online publications. Uddin earned her Master of Science in integrated biomedical sciences with an emphasis in molecular and cellular biochemistry from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.
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