Cervical cancer was once one of the most common cancers affecting U.S. women and now ranks 14th.
The rate has declined sharply with the introduction of the Pap test, a screening procedure that can find changes in the cervix before the cancer develops. The test can also help to find cervical cancer at an early stage.
Several risk factors increase a woman’s chance of developing cervical cancer. The most important risk factor is infection caused by HPV, or human papillomavirus. Other risk factors include smoking, immunosuppression, chlamydia infection and being overweight.
Treatment of cervical cancer depends on:
- Stage of the cancer
- Size and shape of the tumor
- The woman’s age and general health
- Her desire to have children
There is a common myth among women that they must have a hysterectomy to treat cervical cancer. The truth is that while early cervical cancer is typically treated with a hysterectomy — surgery that removes the cervix and uterus — it’s not the only option.
Avoiding a hysterectomy
Some women with early cervical cancer can avoid a hysterectomy with procedures such as a cone biopsy, which removes only the cancerous tissue and a small margin of surrounding healthy tissue, or a radical trachelectomy, which removes the cervix but not the uterus.Radiation and chemotherapy are used to treat more advanced disease and may be options for women with early stage disease who cannot or do not want to have surgery.
Another misconception is that a woman loses the ability to bear children as a result of cervical cancer treatment. In cases of stage IA2 or stage IB cervical cancer, a radical trachelectomy may allow some women to be treated and still have children.
After trachelectomy, some women are able to carry a pregnancy to term and deliver a healthy baby by cesarean section. The risk of a cancer recurrence after this procedure is low.
Women should ask their doctors whether they are candidates for this procedure and consult with a gynecologic oncologist who is skilled in performing this procedure.