Understanding your care after a cervical cancer diagnosis
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cervical cancer, you probably have many questions about what to expect. Because treatment depends on several factors—like your stage of cancer or stage of life—there is no one-size-fits-all approach to cervical cancer care.
No matter what your specific cervical cancer involves, know that you have many support resources available to you. Write down your questions, think about your goals for treatment, and find the support you need. Your care team, including your OB GYN, is there to guide you through additional tests, questions, and options so you can feel confident in your treatment choices.
Your cervical cancer care team
You may see several different health professionals throughout your cancer care. You’ll have the support of multiple physicians, nurses, technologists, therapists, pharmacists, and more.
Physicians might include your general practice OB GYN, a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, as well as an OB GYN who is board certified in gynecologic oncology. This means they have knowledge specifically focused on cancers like yours. Each member of your team provides their expertise to help create a care plan for you.
How cancer staging affects your care
When it’s found in its earliest stages, cervical cancer often has more treatment options. According to the National Cancer Institute, the survival rate after five years for early-stage cervical cancer is more than 90%. This early-stage cancer, usually Stage 0 or Stage I, means your cancer is still isolated in the cells in your cervix.
As you progress into other stages of cancer, the best treatment approach may change. Stages II to IV are used to help describe how far your cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the vagina, lymph nodes, or beyond your reproductive organs.
Depending on the stage, your doctor might recommend a different combination of treatments or a specific type of surgical procedure. You may also ask about clinical trials or other innovative therapies currently available.
Other factors that guide your treatment
In some cases, a woman’s stage of life may be a consideration in deciding treatment. The American Society of Clinical Oncology says the treatment you choose can impact your sexual function, as well as your ability to become pregnant later on. For women who want to have children in the future, your care team may talk with you about how different treatments could cause changes in your fertility.
You’ll also want to talk with your doctor about the risk versus benefits of various options. Some women may have side effects with specific treatments. So those effects can change your care plan too.
Common treatment options
Once you understand all of the factors that go into your care, then you can make an informed choice about cervical cancer treatment. Like other cancers, chemotherapy and radiation are often part of the plan.
Additionally, there are several types of surgeries used to treat cervical cancer. For those caught in the early stages, surgery may focus on burning or freezing the cancerous cells in your cervix to get rid of them without affecting the surrounding tissue.
Some women may choose one of many types of hysterectomy to remove the uterus and the cervix. Depending on the type, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition says your doctor may also remove the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the upper part of the vagina, or other tissues surrounding your reproductive organs.
Finally, in addition to your physical care, emotional well-being is an important aspect of your treatment too. As you go through your cervical cancer journey, speak up if you need help coping with the many life changes you’re experiencing. By communicating with your care team, you’ll be more prepared to navigate and understand every aspect of your cervical cancer diagnosis.