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Cervical Cancer (cont.)

Invasive Cervical Cancer Medical Treatment

The most widely used treatments for cervical cancer are surgery and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy or biological therapy is sometimes used.

  • Treatment for invasive cervical cancer usually involves a team of specialists. The team generally includes a gynecologic oncologist and a radiation oncologist.
  • These doctors may decide to use one treatment method or a combination of methods.
  • A woman may choose to take part in a clinical trial (research study) to evaluate new treatment methods. Such studies are designed to improve cancer treatment. Participating in a clinical trial has both benefits and risks. Participation in clinical trials is always voluntary.

Cancerous cells typically invade surrounding tissues.

  • If a biopsy shows that cancerous cells have invaded through a layer called the basement membrane, which separates the surface layers of the cervix from other underlying layers, surgery is usually required.
  • The extent of the surgery varies, depending on the stage of the cancer.

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is also used to fight cervical cancer at some stages.

  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing.
  • Like surgery, radiation therapy is local therapy; the radiation affects cancer cells only in the treated area.
  • Radiation may be applied externally or internally. Some women receive both kinds.

External radiation comes from a large machine, which aims a beam of radiation at the pelvis.

  • External radiation treatments usually are given five days a week for five to six weeks. At the end of that time, an extra dose of radiation called a "boost" may be applied to the tumor site.
  • Each treatment takes only a few minutes.
  • Because of safety concerns and expense of equipment, radiation therapy generally is offered only at certain large medical centers or hospitals.

Internal or implant radiation comes from a capsule containing radioactive material which is placed directly in the cervix.

  • The implant puts cancer-killing rays close to the tumor while sparing most of the healthy tissue around it.
  • It is usually left in place for one to three days, and the treatment may be repeated several times over the course of one to two weeks.
  • A woman stays in the hospital while the implants are in place.

Chemotherapy is the use of powerful drugs to kill cancer cells. In cervical cancer, it is sometimes used in combination with radiation therapy in high-risk patients, or may be used alone when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Just one drug or a combination of drugs may be given. Chemotherapy regimens are constantly changing, and a woman should discuss the best treatment options with her physician. Targeted biological treatments may also be used with chemotherapy.

  • Anticancer drugs used to treat cervical cancer may be given via an intravenous (IV) line or by mouth.
  • Either way, chemotherapy is systemic treatment, meaning that the drugs flow through the body in the bloodstream. They can kill cancer cells anywhere in the body.
  • Chemotherapy is given in cycles. Each cycle comprises a period of intensive treatment followed by a recovery period. Treatment usually consists of several cycles.
  • Most patients have chemotherapy as an outpatient (in an outpatient clinic at the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home). Depending on which drugs are given and a woman's general health, however, she may need to stay in the hospital during treatment.

Cervical Cancer Self-Care at Home

Self-treatment is not appropriate as the sole or only treatment for cancer under most circumstances. Without medical treatment, the cancer will continue to grow and spread. Eventually vital body organs will not be able to function properly because the cancer will take their oxygen and nutrients, crowd them out, or injure them. The result is very often death.

Although self-treatment is inappropriate, there are things a woman can do to reduce the physical and mental stresses of cancer and its treatment.

Maintaining good nutrition is one of the best things a woman can do.

  • A woman may lose her appetite during treatment.
  • Common side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea, vomiting, and sores inside the mouth, can make eating difficult.
  • However, people who eat well, taking in enough calories and protein, will have an easier time keeping their strength and energy up during the therapy. They are also better able to tolerate the side effects of therapy.
  • A cancer specialist (oncologist) or gynecologist may be able to recommend a nutritionist who can provide suggestions for keeping up calorie and protein intake.

The following lifestyle changes may help keep a woman stronger and more comfortable during treatment:

  • Physical activity will also help keep strength and energy level up. A woman should engage in mild physical activity that is comfortable but doesn't wear her out.
  • Rest is equally important. A woman should get plenty of sleep each night and rest during the day if she needs to.
  • A woman should quit smoking.
  • A woman should avoid alcohol. She may not be able to drink alcohol with some of the medications she is taking. She should ask her health-care professional if she has any concerns about diet and lifestyle changes.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/13/2015

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