Treatment for cervical cancer will depend on the type and stage of your cancer, your medical history and your individual treatment preferences.
There are a number of different surgical options depending on how far the cancer has spread.
- Cone biopsy – a type of surgery used to determine the spread of cancer cells and treat early-stage cervical cancer6. It removes the cone shaped section of the cervix
- Trachelectomy – removes part or all of the cervix and the upper part of the vagina, but leaves the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries in place7
- Hysterectomy – a common type of surgery where the uterus and cervix is removed6,7
How will surgery for cervical cancer affect my fertility?
Each surgery will have a different impact on your fertility. Although any cancer treatment can affect fertility, there is less of an effect on early-stage cancer that has not spread outside the cervix. For women hoping to keep their fertility, a cone biopsy only has a small effect on reproductive organs (the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries). This is because these organs are left in place. On the other hand, a trachelectomy can preserve fertility for young women. However, you may have a higher risk of miscarriage and of having the baby prematurely8.
Talk to your oncologist about your treatment options and how they might affect your fertility. You may be able to have treatment for cervical cancer that can preserve your fertility, or your oncologist may refer you to a fertility expert.
2. Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy may be used on its own or after surgery to help destroy any remaining cancer cells. For women with more advanced cervical cancers, it can be used in combination with chemotherapy to make the cancer cells more sensitive to radiation. This is called chemoradiation.
Radiation can be delivered in two main ways – externally and internally6.
- External beam radiation therapy – During external beam radiation therapy, radiation beams are delivered externally via a linear accelerator machine to the area of cancer.
- Internal radiation therapy – Internal radiation therapy is known as brachytherapy. During brachytherapy, a radiation source is placed close to the cancer, allowing a high dose of radiation to be delivered to the cancerous cells with a limited impact on healthy tissue. To deliver the radiation dose into the cervix, an applicator will be inserted through the vagina into the uterus or cervix.
3. Systemic therapy
Systemic treatments are delivered through the bloodstream. As a result, they can affect all areas of the body.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy and slow the growth of cervical cancer cells6. It is delivered in several sessions over multiple months. This is commonly combined with radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy – Targeted therapy attacks specific proteins and genes in cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies may be used to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. This is delivered by infusion9
- Immunotherapy – Our immune system keeps itself from attacking the body’s normal cells by using “checkpoints” – proteins on immune cells that need to be turned on (or off) to start an immune response. Sometimes, cancer cells hide from the immune system by attaching themselves to checkpoints. Immunotherapy uses checkpoint inhibitors to train the body to identify and destroy cancer cells with these checkpoint proteins