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Cervical Cancer Facts

Treatment | Surgery | Chemotherapy | Radiation Therapy

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Types of Treatment for Cervical Cancer

Your doctor may recommend a specific treatment. Or, he or she may offer you a choice of which one you'd like to follow. But in most cases, surgery or radiation will be needed. Discuss with your doctor and other healthcare professionals any questions and concerns you have about your treatment options. Ask how successful the treatment is expected to be, and what its risks and side effects may be. Your plans for childbearing factor into the treatment decision as well. Take the time you need to make the best decision for you.

Doctors are also finding new ways to treat cervical cancer. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Before beginning treatment, you should ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials you should consider.

Treatment for cervical cancer is either local or systemic.

Local treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area. Surgery and radiation are types of local treatments for cervical cancer.

  • Surgery. This treatment removes as much cancer as possible. It often cures the cancer. It is used for smaller cancers that have not spread far beyond the cervix. There are many types of surgery used for cervical cancer. Some can be done minimally invasive and some may maintain your childbearing potential. Talk with your doctor about your treatment options for your tumor.
  • Radiation. This treatment kills cancer cells by using high-energy rays directed at the tumor from outside your body or with radioactive material placed at specific areas near your cervix. Women treated with radiation for cervical cancer often receive low-dose chemotherapy at the same time. This can make the radiation work better. Sometimes radiation can be used in place of surgery. For smaller cancers, radiation works as well as surgery. Radiation may also be used to cure larger cancers.

Systemic treatments destroy or control cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. That's because it travels through the bloodstream to the whole body.

  • Chemotherapy. This treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is not very effective when used alone for cervical cancer. Most women who have chemotherapy for cervical cancer have it combined with radiation.

You may have just one treatment. Or you may have a combination of treatments.

Questions to Ask About Treatment for Cervical Cancer

At first, the information you learn about treatment options may seem overwhelming. You may ease the stress by allowing yourself the time to gather as much information as possible about the cancer and its treatment. That way, you can discuss the issues with your doctors, nurses, and loved ones.

You may find it helpful to make a list of your questions before seeing your doctor. Use the list of questions below as a starting place for the questions you might ask. To make it easier to remember what your doctor says, take notes during meetings, or ask if you can use a tape recorder. It may also help to have a family member or friend with you to take part in the discussion, take notes, or just listen.

  • What treatments do you think are best for me and why?
  • What treatments do you think are not for me and why?
  • What is the success rate of this particular treatment for my type and stage of cervical cancer?
  • Can I take my other medicines during the treatment period?
  • What is the length of the treatment period?
  • How long will each treatment take?
  • Where do I have to go for the treatment?
  • Who is involved in giving me the treatment?
  • Does someone need to go with me during treatments?
  • How will I feel after the treatment?
  • What side effects can I expect to have?
  • How long will side effects last?
  • Will I be able to have children after treatment?
  • Will I continue to have periods after treatment?
  • Are there side effects that I need to call you about?
  • Will treatment cause any sexual problems?
  • What can I do to ease the side effects?
  • Will I be able to go to work and be around my family?
  • Should I change my diet? What foods can't I eat?
  • What kind of follow-up care do I need?
  • What can I do to reduce the chance that the cancer will come back?
  • Are there any clinical trials I should look into?
  • Are there support groups nearby that I can join?

Now is the time to be very honest with yourself about what side effects you can and cannot tolerate. It is your healthcare team's duty to tell you what those side effects might be before the treatment, but it's up to you to think about them seriously before making a decision.

Advances in Treating Cervical Cancer

Researchers are doing significant cervical cancer studies. They are improving minimally invasive or minimally radical surgeries that works well for women with this type of cancer.

Today, surgery for cervical cancer does not always require a large cut. A new treatment uses a smaller cut by combining laparoscopy and vaginal surgery. This means you heal faster and the post-operative pain is less. Studies also show that women who have this new procedure lose less blood and go home faster than women who have the older type of surgery.

Another newer procedure is called radical trachelectomy. In this surgery, the upper part of the uterus is saved so a woman may be able to attempt pregnancy. Doctors have reported successful pregnancies in a number of women who had this surgery.

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