Cervical cancer can be treated. Treatment can be used to cure the cancer or control it to keep it from spreading. It can also help control symptoms or problems the cancer is causing. Surgery and radiation therapy are the most common treatments for cervical cancer. You may be treated by a specialist called a gynecologic oncologist. This is a doctor who is specially trained to treat cancers of the female reproductive system. He or she will talk with you about the treatment options that are best for you.
The treatments they advise will depend on each of these factors:
Type of cervical cancer you have
Size of the tumor and where it is (the stage of the cancer)
Your age and overall health
If the cancer has spread to other parts of your body
If you want to become pregnant in the future
How likely it is that the treatment will cure the cancer. Some cancers can be cured while others can't.
Talk with your doctor and other healthcare providers about any questions and concerns you have about your treatment options. Ask how well treatment is expected to work, and what the risks and side effects may be. Your doctor is the best person to answer your questions.
You may want to ask how you’ll feel and how your body will work after treatment. Ask if you’ll have to change your normal activities. You may also want to know how treatment will affect your sex life.
Your doctor may advise a certain treatment. Or he or she may offer more than one, and ask you to decide which one you’d prefer. It can be hard to make this decision. Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each option. It's important to take the time you need to make the best decision for you.
There are 2 main types of treatments: local or systemic.
Local treatments. These treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area.
Systemic treatments. These treatments destroy or control cancer cells all over the body.
You may have just 1 type of treatment. Or a combination of treatments may be used.
Local treatments for cervical cancer include:
Surgery. The goal of surgery is to take out all the cancer. Nearby pelvic lymph nodes might also be removed to test them for spread of the cancer. Surgery is used for early stage cancer that has not spread beyond the cervix. Surgery often cures the cancer.
Radiation. This treatment kills cancer cells by using high-energy X-rays aimed right at the tumor. Radiation can be from outside your body (external beam radiation). It can also be done using radioactive material placed inside your body (internal radiation or brachytherapy).
Systemic treatments for cervical cancer include:
Chemotherapy. This treatment uses medicines that kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy (chemo) travels through your blood around your whole body to kill cancer cells in the cervix and any cancer cells that may have spread beyond the cervix. It doesn't work very well when used alone for cervical cancer. Most women who get chemotherapy for cervical cancer get it along with radiation. The chemo helps the radiation work better.
Targeted therapy. This treatment uses medicines that are made to attack and kill cancer cells while not harming healthy cells.
Immunotherapy (biologic therapy). This treatment uses medicines that help boost your immune system to fight cancer cells.
Doctors are always looking for new ways to treat cervical cancer. These new, and maybe better, treatments are tested in clinical trials. Before starting treatment, ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials you should consider.
Your gynecologic oncologist will help you make a treatment plan. Talking about your treatment choices will be one of the most important meetings you'll have with your doctor.
It may take time to choose the best plan. Ask your doctor how much time you can take to explore your options. Learn as much as you can. Don't be afraid to ask questions. You may want to get a second opinion from another doctor before deciding on treatment. You may also want to talk with your family and friends.