Cervical cancer is a disease that causes cancerous cells to form in the tissue of the cervix, which is located between the uterus and the vagina. Although there are usually no signs or symptoms of cervical cancer in its early stages, it can still be detected and diagnosed through routine tests and examinations of the cervix.
Treatment for confirmed cervical cancer will vary depending on the stage of the cancer, as well as your overall health and personal preferences. Treatment usually includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or some combination of the three.
A hysterectomy is the most common treatment for cervical cancer in its early stages. There are two primary types of hysterectomy:
- Simple hysterectomy: Simply hysterectomies are usually only an option if the cancer is in its very early stages. In this procedure, your cervix and uterus are completely removed in an attempt to get rid of all of the cancer at once.
- Radical hysterectomy: If there is a possibility that the cancer has spread to any of the surrounding organs, then a radical hysterectomy will be the better option. In this procedure, your cervix, uterus, part of your vagina, and lymph nodes in the area are removed to make sure the cancer is gone.
Radiation therapy is a common cancer treatment that uses high-powered energy beams (similar to X-rays) to kill cancer cells in a localized area. This type of therapy is often used before surgery to shrink a tumor or to kill any remaining cancerous cells after surgery. There are different methods that radiation therapy can be used:
- External: This involves directing a radiation beam at the affected area of the body.
- Internal: This is referred to as brachytherapy, and it involves placing a radioactive material-filled device inside your vagina for only a few minutes at a time.
Sometimes a combination of both internal and external radiation therapy is used to treat cervical cancer.
If you are premenopausal, you may stop menstruating and go into menopause after receiving radiation therapy. So, if you plan to become pregnant in the future, you should talk with your doctor about your options for preserving eggs before your radiation treatment begins.
This type of treatment is usually given intravenously to kill any cancer cells that are present in the entire body. Chemotherapy is often given in conjunction with radiation therapy, since low doses of chemotherapy will enhance the effects of radiation.
If you have a very advanced stage of cervical cancer that is not curable, sometimes high doses of chemotherapy will be used in an attempt to control the cancer temporarily.
After your treatment is complete, you will still need to receive regular checkups to make sure the cancer does not return. Your doctor will tell you how often you will need to have follow-up exams.