Treating cervical cancer
If your doctor says that you have cervical cancer, ask to be referred to a gynaecological oncologist, a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers of a woman’s reproductive system. This doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan and, depending on the type and stage of your cancer, you may need more than one type of treatment.
For the earliest stages of cervical cancer, either surgery or radiation combined with chemotherapy may be used. For later stages, radiation combined with chemotherapy is usually the main treatment. It is important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decisions that best fit your needs.
It is also very important to ask questions if there is anything you are not sure about. Although the choice of treatment depends largely on the stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis, other factors that may influence your options are your age, general health, your individual circumstances, and your preferences.
Cervical cancer can affect your sex life and your ability to have children. These concerns should also be considered as you make treatment decisions. Be sure that you understand all the risks and side effects of the various treatments before making a decision.
If time permits, it is often a good idea to seek a second opinion. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.
You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor has not mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.
Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be harmful.
COMMON TERMS USED IN TREATING CERVICAL CANCER:
• If the cancer is only on the surface of your cervix, your doctor can remove or destroy the cancerous cells with procedures like LEEP or Cold Knife Conization.
• If cancerous cells have passed through a layer called the basement membrane, which separates the surface of your cervix from underlying layers, you will probably need surgery. If the disease has invaded deeper layers of your cervix but has not spread to other parts of your body, you might have an operation to take out the tumour.
• If it is spread into your uterus, your doctor will probably recommend a hysterectomy.
• Radiation therapy (or radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to damage cancer cells and stop their growth. As with surgery, the radiation affects cancer cells only in the treated area.Your treatments might be external, internal, or both.
• External radiation comes from a large machine that aims a beam of radiation at your pelvis. You will probably get treatments, which take only a few minutes, five days a week for five to six weeks. Finally, you may have an extra dose of radiation called a ‘boost’.
SOURCE: American Cancer Society; Jamaica Cancer Society