Treatment Overview for Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer can be a slow-growing cancer with few symptoms, however regular Pap tests can ensure that cervical cancer is found early. Cervical cancer is almost always caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Each year the United States will see 12,200 new cases of cervical cancer, and there will be 4,210 deaths from the disease. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women.

Remember--because abnormal cervical cell changes rarely cause noticeable symptoms you must be extra-diligent about getting your annual Pap test done. Once cervical cell changes have progressed to cervical cancer you may notice abnormal vaginal bleeding, a significant unexplained change in your menstrual cycle, bleeding or pain during sexual intercourse or an abnormal vaginal discharge containing mucus and blood. Once cervical cancer has progressed, symptoms could include anemia, ongoing pelvic, leg, or back pain, urinary problems or noticeable weight loss. Bear in mind that when cervical cancer is detected in the early states, it can be cured with treatment and follow-up.

Treatments for Cervical Cancer

Your choices for cervical cancer treatments, will likely include surgery to remove the cancer in the form of a cone biopsy, a simple hysterectomy to remove the uterus and cervix, or a modified radical hysterectomy and lymph node dissection to remove the cancer. You may choose to have radiation therapy, which uses high-dose X-rays or implants in the vaginal cavity to kill the cancer cells. Radiation therapy may also be used to treat other organs which have been affected by your cervical cancer. You and your doctor may decide that chemotherapy is the proper treatment as it can make your cancer more sensitive to radiation therapy, or be used to treat cancer which has spread. Chemotherapy uses a type of medicine to kill cancer cells, and may be given at the same time as radiation therapy (chemo-radiation). Finally, you may decide to have a radical trachelectomy done, which removes the cervix and the pelvic lymph nodes, leaving the uterus in place. This particular treatment is done fairly rarely. Your quality of life is of major importance when you consider all the treatment options available. You and your doctor will consider the stage of your particular type of cancer as well as your age, overall health, desire to have children and quality of life.

Side Effect of Common Treatments

Chemotherapy side effects can include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores and hair loss, while side effects of radiation therapy can include fatigue, skin irritation or changes in bowel and urinary habits. The side effects of surgery are difficult to judge as they are dependent on which surgery you have done based on the stage of your cancer. Some things you can do at home to treat the symptoms of chemotherapy and radiation include staying well-hydrated, making sure your diet is rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber, trying to get extra rest, and reducing your stress as much as humanly possible. You may find it worthwhile to try complementary therapies such as acupuncture, herbal treatments, biofeedback, meditation, yoga, visualization, or vitamin and nutritional supplements.

Aftercare for Cervical Cancer

You should have a pelvic exam and Pap test every three months for the first two or three years following your initial cancer. Your doctor may also recommend an abdominal and pelvic CT scan to monitor whether the cervical cancer has spread to other organs in the abdomen or pelvis. If you are experiencing any respiratory symptoms, a chest x-ray may be done to determine if the cancer has spread to the lungs. About 35% of women with cervical cancer will have persistent or recurrent disease; the chance that your particular cancer will return generally depends on the stage of your initial cancer.

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