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Home > All About Cancer > Cancer Fact Sheets > Cervical Cancer

The Cervix

Causes & symptoms | The Diagnosis | Questions

The Treatment
Treatment of cervical cancer can include :

Surgery
Surgery and radiotherapy combined
Chemotherapy

Your doctor will plan your treatment by taking into consideration a number of factors, including :

your age
general health
the type and size of the tumour
what the tumour looks under the microscope
whether the tumour has spread beyond the cervix

Sometimes, especially in the early stages of cancer of the cervix, either radiotherapy or surgery can be used, as both give similar results.

Surgery

The operation for cancer of the cervix usually involves the removal of the womb (hysterectomy), and sometimes a small part of the vagina and lymph nodes.
If the cancerous cells have spread only very slightly beyond the surface cells of the cervix, it may be possible to treat this with a cone biopsy.
The ovaries may also be removed but, where possible, they are preserved in young women as their removal brings on an early menopause.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high energy rays which destroy the cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells.
Radiotherapy for cancer of the cervix can be given externally or internally, and often as a combination of the two.
Radiotherapy may sometimes be given, either before or after surgery if your doctor is concerned that some cancer cells may be left behind. At other times it is used on its own to treat cancer of the cervix.
Your radiotherapist, who plans your treatment, will be able to help you with any problems you may have.

External radiotherapy
This is given by directing high energy rays over the area of the cancer. Treatment planning is a very important part of radiotherapy and it may take several visits before the radiotherapist is satisfied with the result.

Internal (intracavity) radiotherapy
This is given by inserting an applicator like a tampon, containing a radioactive substance into the cervix under an anaesthetic. It is usually left in place for one or two days and gives a high dose of radiation to the cervix and the surrounding area. Occasionally an implant containing a higher dose of radioactivity is used and this is only in place for a few hours.

Curitron/Selectron machine
In some hospitals a machine, which may be called a Curitron or Selectron or similar name, is used to put the radioactive material into the applicators. The machine is attached to the applicators by tubes. When the machine is switched on it passes small radioactive sources into the applicators. If the machine is switched off, the sources are pulled back inside the machine. When someone needs to go into your room the machine can be turned off, so reducing their exposure to the rays. Once you have received your dose of radiation the sources and the applicators will be removed. This is usually done on the ward.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of special anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. They work by disrupting the growth and division of cancer cells.
Chemotherapy may be given before surgery or radiotherapy, to shrink the cancer and to make these treatments easier to carry out. If it is given in this way it is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.
It may also be used after surgery if your doctor feels that there is a risk of the cancer remaining and possibly recurring in the future. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
The chemotherapy drugs are usually given intravenously (by injection into a vein).

Side Effects
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy could cause the following side-effects:

Fatigue
Nausea
Vomiting
Diarrhoea
Loss of Hair
Oral ulcers
Menopause
Infertility

To learn more about how to cope with these side-effects, please download our booklets "Hair Loss", "Radiotherapy", "Chemotherapy" and "Sexuality and Cancer", or call CancerLink on 3667 3000.