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Keywords:

  • brachytherapy;
  • cervical cancer;
  • experience;
  • internal radiation treatment;
  • phenomenology;
  • qualitative study

Abstract

Title. Women’s experience of internal radiation treatment for uterine cervical cancer

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study to explore the experiences of women undergoing internal radiation for cervical cancer.

Background.  Cervical cancer continues to be one of the most common cancers and one of the leading causes of cancer deaths globally. Women’s experiences of undergoing internal radiation for cervical cancer remain relatively unexplored, in particular in Hong Kong. Better understanding of the experiences of this specific group could inform the provision of supportive care services and provide useful information to be included in education programmes for them.

Method.  A phenomenological approach was adopted and unstructured telephone interviews were carried out with eight participants between July and October 2004. The interviews were audio-taped and analysed using the procedures described by Giorgi, 1985.

Findings.  Three themes were identified from the data: (1) isolation versus social intercourse, (2) unbearable symptom distress versus endurance and coping and (3) growth from the experience. The most distressing aspects of undergoing internal cervical irradiation reported by the patients were the experience of isolation and various physical and psychological symptoms. Specific provisions in the physical environment, psychological support provided by healthcare professionals, family and fellow patients and a positive attitude helped them to cope. They also felt that they became stronger through their hardship and suffering.

Conclusion.  The findings highlight the importance of adequate preparation of patients, carers and friends before the procedure, more sensitive support during the procedure and debriefing afterwards. There might also be benefits in delivering therapy to two women in adjacent beds to enable them to support each other.