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Types of Treatment for Cervical Cancer

Surgery and radiation therapy are the most common treatments for cervical cancer. A specialist known as a gynecologic oncologist, who is specifically trained to treat these cancers, may recommend one or both of these treatment options for you. Discuss with your doctor and other health care professionals any questions and concerns you have about your treatment options. Ask how successful the treatment is expected to be, and what the risks and side effects may be. Take the time you need to make the best decision for you.

Doctors are also finding new ways to treat cervical cancer. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Before beginning treatment, you should ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials you should consider.

Treatment for cervical cancer is either local or systemic.

Local treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in 1 area. Surgery and radiation are types of local treatments for cervical cancer:

  • Surgery. The goal of a radical hysterectomy is to completely remove the cancer and to remove the pelvic lymph nodes to test them for spread of the disease. Surgery is used for early stage cancers that have not spread far beyond the cervix. Surgical treatment usually results in a cure. Some patients with small, early stage tumors may undergo less radical surgery and may remain able to have children. 

  • Radiation. This treatment kills cancer cells by using high-energy X-rays directed at the tumor. Radiation can be external (from outside your body) and can also be internal (using radioactive material placed inside your body). Women treated with radiation for cervical cancer usually receive low-dose chemotherapy at the same time, which can make the radiation work better. Sometimes radiation can be used in place of surgery. For smaller cancers, radiation works as well as surgery. Radiation can also be used to cure larger cancers and is the treatment of choice for more advanced stage tumors.

Systemic treatments destroy or control cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. That’s because it travels through the bloodstream to the whole body to target cancer cells that may have spread beyond the primary tumor:

  • Chemotherapy. This treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is not very effective when used alone for cervical cancer. Most women who have chemotherapy for cervical cancer have it combined with radiation.

You may have just 1 method of treatment. Or you may have a combination of these treatments options.

How your doctor knows what treatment choices to suggest

Cervical cancer can be treated. The recommendations for your treatment depend on each of these factors:

  • Type of cervical cancer you have

  • Size and location of the tumor, called the stage

  • Your age and general health

  • Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body

  • Your desire 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.

Treatment can control the cervical cancer. It can also control symptoms of the cancer.

The gynecologic oncologist will help you make a treatment plan once you know the type and stage of cervical cancer you have. 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. You may want to get an opinion from another doctor before deciding on treatment. You may also want to talk with your family and friends.