Cervical Cancer Treatment Options

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Treatment for cervical cancer depends on several factors, such as the stage of the cancer, other health conditions you may have and your preferences. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of the three may be used.

Surgery

Small cervical cancers that haven’t grown beyond the cervix are typically treated with surgery. The size of your cancer, its stage and whether you would like to consider becoming pregnant in the future will determine which operation is best for you.

Options might include:

  • Surgery to cut away the cancer only. For a very small cervical cancer, it might be possible to remove all the cancer with a cone biopsy. This procedure involves cutting away a cone-shaped piece of cervical tissue and leaving the rest of the cervix intact. This option may make it possible for you to consider becoming pregnant in the future.
  • Surgery to remove the cervix, called a trachelectomy. A small cervical cancer might be treated with a radical trachelectomy procedure. This procedure removes the cervix and some surrounding tissue. The uterus remains after this procedure, so it may be possible to become pregnant, if you choose.
  • Surgery to remove the cervix and uterus, called a hysterectomy. Most cervical cancers that have not spread beyond the cervix are treated with a radical hysterectomy operation. This involves removing the cervix, uterus, part of the vagina and nearby lymph nodes. A hysterectomy can often cure the cancer and stop it from coming back. But removing the uterus makes it impossible to become pregnant.

Minimally invasive hysterectomy may be an option for very small cervical cancers that have not spread, known as microinvasive cancers. This procedure involves making several small cuts in the abdomen rather than one large cut. People who have minimally invasive surgery tend to recover faster and spend less time in the hospital. But some research has found that minimally invasive hysterectomy may be less effective than traditional hysterectomy. If you’re considering minimally invasive surgery, discuss the benefits and risks of this approach with your surgeon.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses powerful energy beams to kill cancer cells. The energy can come from X-rays, protons or other sources. Radiation therapy is often combined with chemotherapy as the primary treatment for cervical cancers that have grown beyond the cervix. It also can be used after surgery if there’s an increased risk that the cancer will come back.

Radiation therapy can be given:

  • Externally, called external beam radiation therapy. A radiation beam is directed at the affected area of the body.
  • Internally, called brachytherapy. A device filled with radioactive material is placed inside your vagina, usually for only a few minutes.
  • Both externally and internally.

If you haven’t started menopause, radiation therapy might cause menopause. Ask your health care team about ways to preserve your eggs before treatment.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells. For cervical cancer that has spread beyond the cervix, low doses of chemotherapy are often combined with radiation therapy. This is because chemotherapy may enhance the effects of the radiation. Higher doses of chemotherapy might be recommended to help control symptoms of very advanced cancer. Chemotherapy may be used before surgery to reduce the size of the cancer.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy uses medicines that attack specific chemicals in the cancer cells. By blocking these chemicals, targeted treatments can cause cancer cells to die. Targeted therapy is usually combined with chemotherapy. It might be an option for advanced cervical cancer.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a treatment with medicine that helps your immune system kill cancer cells. Your immune system fights off diseases by attacking germs and other cells that shouldn’t be in your body. Cancer cells survive by hiding from the immune system. Immunotherapy helps the immune system cells find and kill the cancer cells. For cervical cancer, immunotherapy might be considered when the cancer is advanced and other treatments aren’t working.

Palliative care

Palliative care is a special type of health care that helps you feel better when you have a serious illness. If you have cancer, palliative care can help relieve pain and other symptoms. A team that can include doctors, nurses and other specially trained professionals provides palliative care. The team’s goal is to improve quality of life for you and your family.

Palliative care specialists work with you, your family and your care team to help you feel better. They provide an extra layer of support while you have cancer treatment. You can have palliative care at the same time as strong cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Using palliative care along with all the other appropriate treatments can help people with cancer feel better and live longer.

Contact a specialist

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