Cervical cancer treatment
Cervical cancer can often be cured when it's found early. It is usually found at a very early stage through a Pap test. Different types of treatment are available for patients with cervical cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. If you have any questions about your treatment, don't be afraid to ask your doctor for more information. It often helps to make a list of questions and to take a close friend or relative with you.
1. Cervical cancer prevention
HPV vaccine - A recently developed vaccine for girls and young women called the HPV vaccine protects against the four types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. It is recommended that all girls who are between 12 and 13 years of age should have the HPV vaccine. 'Catch-up' vaccinations are also available for older girls who are under 18 years of age. Studies over the long term have shown that the HPV vaccine is expected to save lives every year. It is not certain how long the vaccination gives protection for. It is expected that HPV vaccines last for life, but more research is needed to find out if this is the case. It may be that women will need a booster dose at some time.
PAP test - CIN (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia) is an abnormal growth of cells on the cervix and is diagnosed by a simple, painless test called a Pap test. Detecting CIN is considered good prevention for cervical cancer. Doctors perform PAP tests inserting the end of a thin speculum into the vagina to see the cervix and then gently collect cells from the cervix and cervical canal. Cells from the cervix are sent to a lab to be viewed under a microscope. Your doctor may recommend that you have a Pap test at least twice a year for the next 2 to 3 years if PAP tests are abnormal to detect any recurrence of CIN and treat it promptly. Then, if your Pap tests have been normal, you may need the test just once a year. Continue to have Pap tests after a hysterectomy as recommended by your healthcare provider.
2. Initial standard treatments
Treatment can be given for different reasons and the potential benefits will vary depending upon the individual situation.Many people are frightened at the thought of having cancer treatments, because of the side effects that can occur. Although treatments can cause side effects, it is usually possible to control these with medicines. Occasionally, additional treatments are given to help reduce the risks of cancer recurrence.
Treatment may only be able to control advanced stages of cancer, leading to an improvement in symptoms and a better quality of life. However, some women may experience no effect of treatment upon the cancer and experience side effects without any benefit.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. The method for administering chemo depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Systemic chemotherapy - chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body.
Regional chemotherapy - chemotherapy is placed locally by injection. The drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Surgery is sometimes used to treat cervical cancer by removing cancerous tissues during an operation. In women with early-stage cervical cancer, surgery is often performed with the aim of curing the cancer. The following surgical procedures may be used in the treatment of cervical cancer:
Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy - Surgery to remove both ovaries and both fallopian tubes.
Conization - A procedure to remove a cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix and cervical canal. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. Conization may be used to diagnose or treat a cervical condition. This procedure is also called a cone biopsy.
Cryosurgery - An instrument freezes and destroys abnormal tissue. This type of treatment is also called cryotherapy.
Laser surgery - A surgical procedure that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) as a knife to make bloodless cuts in tissue or to remove a surface lesion such as a tumor.
Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) - A treatment that uses electrical current passed through a thin wire loop as a knife to remove abnormal tissue or cancer.
Pelvic exenteration - Surgery to remove the lower colon, rectum, and bladder. In women, the cervix, vagina, ovaries, and nearby lymph nodes are also removed. Artificial openings (stoma) are made for urine and stool to flow from the body to a collection bag. Plastic surgery may be needed to make an artificial vagina after this operation.
Radical hysterectomy - Surgery to remove the uterus, cervix, and part of the vagina. The ovaries, fallopian tubes, or nearby lymph nodes may also be removed.
Total hysterectomy - Surgery to remove the uterus, including the cervix.
3. Follow up care
After initial treatment for cervical cancer, it is important to receive follow-up care. Your oncologist or gynecologic oncologist will schedule regular checkups that will include:
Follow-up tests that may be recommended by your oncologist include an abdominal and pelvic computed tomography (CT) scan to monitor whether cancer has spread to other organs in the abdomen or pelvis. If respiratory symptoms are present, a chest X-ray may be done to determine whether cancer has spread to the lungs.
During medical treatment for any stage of cervical cancer, you can use home treatment to help manage the side effects of cervical cancer or cancer treatment. Home treatment may be all that is needed to manage the following common problems. If your doctor has given you instructions or medicines to treat these symptoms, be sure to follow them. In general, healthy habits such as eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep and exercise can help control your symptoms.