Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are the most common treatment types for cancer and may be used alone or in combination to treat cervical cancer. Your doctor will plan your treatment by taking into consideration the type and size of the tumour, whether the cancer has spread, your age and general health.

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 most appropriate type of surgery depends on the size of the cancer and whether or not it has spread. If the cancer is in its early stages, it may be completely removed by this method. If the cancer cells have spread, your doctor may consider using surgery in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation to alleviate the symptoms.

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 early menopause.

If you want to know more about surgery, visit our information on coping with treatment.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high energy rays which destroy the cancer cells while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. It may be used as a standalone treatment, before or after surgery to treat your cancer. There are two kinds of radiotherapy: external and internal radiotherapy.

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, thus 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.

If you want to know more about radiotherapy, visit our information on coping with treatment.

Chemotherapy 

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells which work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. The drugs are sometimes given orally or more usually intravenously (injection into a vein). Doctors may advise having chemotherapy and radiotherapy together before or after surgery to minimise the chances of cancer returning. It is also used when cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.

If you want to know more about chemotherapy, visit our treatment information here.

Side Effects

Cancer treatments can cause a range of side effects. For more information on common side effects and tips on how to manage cope, please click here.

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