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Treatment Choices for Cervical Cancer

Cancer survivor Betsy de Parry shares her story of diagnosis, and advice for newly diagnosed cancer patients - including not what to ask at your diagnosis.

Contributed by Annette Schork, R.N., BSN, OCN, CBCN, Cancer AnswerLine

When a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, many questions arise. Why me? Can it be treated? Will I be cured? There are a number of myths or misconceptions about treating cervical cancer and understanding the facts is an important first step in making treatment choices.

Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death in American women. The rate has declined. The main reason for this change is use of the Pap test, a screening procedure that can find changes in the cervix before the cancer develops. It can also help to find cervical cancer at an early stage.

There are several risk factors that increase a women’s chance of developing cervical cancer. The most important risk factor is infection caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Other risk factors include smoking, immunosuppression, Chlamydia infection and a family history of cervical cancer.

Treatment of cervical cancer depends on:

  • Stage of the cancer
  • Size and shape of the tumor
  • The woman's age and general health
  • Her desire to have children in the future

There is a common myth among women that they must have a hysterectomy to treat cervical cancer. The truth is that while early cervical cancer is typically treated with a hysterectomy -- surgery that removes the cervix and uterus – it’s not the only option. Radiation and chemotherapy are used to treat more advanced disease and may also be options for women with early stage disease who cannot or may not want to have surgery. Some women with early cervical cancer can also avoid hysterectomy with procedures such as a cone biopsy that removes only the cancerous tissue and a small margin of surrounding healthy tissue, or a procedure called radical trachelectomy, which removes the cervix but not the uterus.

Another misconception is that a woman loses the ability to bear children as a result of being treated for cervical cancer. If a woman has stage IA2 or stage IB cervical cancer, a radical trachelectomy may be an option which allows some of these young women to be treated without losing their ability to have children. After trachelectomy, some women are able to carry a pregnancy to term and deliver a healthy baby by cesarean section. The risk of the cancer coming back after this procedure is low.

Women should ask their doctors whether they’re candidates for this procedure and should seek a consultation with a gynecologic oncologist who’s skilled in performing this procedure.

The U-M Gynecology Oncology Clinic offers surgery, chemotherapy, radiation implants and clinical trials as treatment options for women diagnosed with cervical cancer. The multidisciplinary clinic coordinates many types of treatment to provide the best opportunity for success against the cancer while minimizing the potential for side effects and other complications.

Continue learning about cervical cancer and treatment:

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