Gynaecological cancers include:
Cervical - There are two main types of cervical cancer:
- Squamous cell carcinoma, the most common type, starts in the skin-like cells which cover the outer surface of the cervix at the top of the vagina.
- Adenocarcinoma, it starts in cells called glandular cells which are in the cervical canal. The cervical canal is a small opening in the cervix which leads into the uterus (womb).
Ovarian - This is a malignant tumour in one or both ovaries. The most common type is serous papillary but other types include endometroid, clear cell and mucinous carcinoma.
Uterus - This is the most common gynaecological cancer affecting women in Australia. Most cancers of the uterus are cancers of the lining of the uterus (the endometrium). Cancers can also develop in the muscle layers of the uterus.
Vaginal - This is cancer that begins in tissue in the vagina. This is a known as a primary vaginal cancer as the cancer first starts in the vagina. Some cancers begin in another part of the body (cervix, uterus, bladder or bowel) and spread to the vagina. These are known as secondary vaginal cancers.
Vulva – This cancer begins in cells in the vulva (the external female genital organs, including the clitoris, vaginal lips and the opening to the vagina).
Gynaecological cancers are often detected as a result of screening processes. Routine examinations and pap smears are recommended as often these cancers do not immediately provide obvious signs or symptoms. The following are some indicators to be aware of and if they do persist consultation with your doctor is recommended.
- Unusual bleeding, such as postmenopausal bleeding, bleeding after intercourse or bleeding between periods
- Pain or pressure in the pelvis
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Change in toilet habits
- Itching, burning or soreness in the immediate area
Treatment for gynaecological cancers depends on a range of factors, including the type of cancer, diagnosis and staging, its physical location and overall patient health. The combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy is routinely used for the clinical treatment of these cancers.
The role of External Beam Radiotherapy in Gynaecological Cancer
Radiotherapy treatment for gynaecological cancers is routinely delivered either as a treatment option pre-surgery or post-surgery.
The clinical approach to the radiotherapy treatment of these cancers is very much dependent on the location of the treatment area. The challenge in the management of these cancers is to deliver the prescribed tumour dose, whilst minimising the dose to normal tissue and subsequent side effects. The equipment available at Genesis Cancer Care Western Australia provides a consistent platform whereby the required treatments can be customised and delivered safely on a routine basis.
For certain patients both external beam radiotherapy and brachytherapy may be recommended for the treatment of their gynaecological cancer to ensure that the required therapeutic dose is delivered.
Brachytherapy for Gynaecological Cancer
Brachytherapy is useful particularly in the treatment of vaginal, cervical and uterine cancers. High-Dose Rate (HDR) brachytherapy is delivered either:
- Intracavity – radiation is temporarily placed in a body cavity next to the treatment target
- Interstitially – radiation is temporarily placed in the physical treatment target
The treatments take only minutes but depending on the type of cancer, the number of treatment sessions and the overall procedure time does vary. Gynaecological brachytherapy is conducted as both an outpatient and day only inpatient procedure in the Integrated Brachytherapy Unit located at Royal Perth Hospital.
Radiotherapy treatment services for gynaecological cancers are available at the following Genesis Cancer Care Western Australia centres: