Cervical Cancer Treatment

The optimal treatment for cervical cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. As the cancer becomes more invasive and spreads beyond the cervix to other parts of the body it becomes more difficult to treat. This is why early detection with a Pap smear is so important.

Treatment of Pre-Cancerous Lesions of the Cervix

Some low-grade lesions can be left untreated, but require diligent observation with annual Pap smears and pelvic exams. If the lesion does require treatment, the doctor may freeze the cells with a procedure called cryosurgery. Another common treatment method is cauterization, also called diathermy, which cauterizes (burns) the abnormal tissue. Laser surgery destroys the lesion and damages little of the surrounding healthy tissue.

The LEEP procedure, a biopsy technique that removes a thin piece of tissue, or a larger cone biopsy may also be used in treatment. If the lesion is a small, contained area of abnormal cells, a biopsy of the cervix using LEEP or cone biopsy may be all that is necessary to remove the pre-cancerous tissue.

Invasive Cervical Cancer Treatments

Surgery or radiation treatments are recommended for lesions that are localized to one area. The use of chemotherapy or biological therapy (immunotherapy) becomes necessary when the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body. Some patients choose to participate in clinical trials to receive cutting-edge, novel treatments for cervical cancer.

A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus and cervix and may also include the fallopian tubes and ovaries.Surgery

Cervical cancer that has spread beyond the cervix into the uterus or ovaries may require a hysterectomy. A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus and cervix and may also include the fallopian tubes and ovaries. A hysterectomy prevents a woman from having any more children. If the ovaries are also removed, the woman enters menopause immediately. In addition to a long recovery period (four to eight weeks) that limits activity level, some women have expressed a sense of loss and lack of desire for sexual intimacy following hysterectomy.

Radiation Therapy

Another therapy used for the treatment of localized cancer is radiation therapy. During external radiation therapy, focused high-energy x-rays are aimed at the lesion to kill the cancerous cells. During internal radiation therapy (also called brachytherapy) a radioactive material is placed directly into the affected tissue. Side effects of radiation therapy vary depending on the amount of radiation and the type used. Side effects can include hair loss, fatigue, and sensitive skin.

Most radiation therapy protocols now also include chemotherapy. Research indicates that radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy is more effective than radiation therapy alone.

Chemotherapy

When cervical cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, treating the entire body becomes necessary. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, which means that the drugs used will affect the entire body. The drugs used in chemotherapy are either taken by mouth or injected into the bloodstream. Side effects are commonly associated with chemotherapy and may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a reduction in white blood cells that can lead to infections. Cisplatin is one of the most active chemotherapeutic drugs against cervical cancer.

Biological therapy, such as interferon, may be combined with chemotherapy. Interferon is a protein (of the cytokine family) given to patients on chemotherapy to help bolster their immune system.

Clinical Trials and New Treatments

Clinical trials are continually evaluating cervical cancer treatments. Some of these trials evaluate new drugs or drug combinations. Some of the drugs that have shown promising results when combined with cisplatin are ifosfamide, paclitaxel and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). Others test new radiation therapy protocols. Vaccines for the prevention of HPV, and for the treatment of HPV and invasive cervical cancers are currently being studied. Doctors often offer their patients the chance to participate in these studies that seek new cures for cervical cancer.

Resources

Beers, M. H.,