If you think or know you have cervical cancer, you're scared about what this means for your future. Not only are you possibly facing cervical cancer surgery, but a cancer that could disrupt your sex life and ability to have children.
At UVA Health, you'll find experts who've dedicated their careers to caring for women with cervical and other cancers of the female reproductive system. Under the guidance of a gynecologic oncologist, you'll feel well cared for. But you'll also know you're in experienced hands.
Cervical Cancer Surgery & Treatment Options at UVA
Our experts will tailor cervical cancer surgery and other treatments to fight your cancer, but also to help preserve your fertility and sex life.
You may need a combination of treatments. Which treatment makes sense for you depends on many factors:
- Your age and general health
- Whether you have a certain type of HPV, the main cause of cervical cancer
- Stage of the cancer
- Type of cervical cancer
- Size of the tumor
As leaders in the field of gynecologic cancer care, our experts offer the full array of surgery and treatment options for all stages of cancer, including:
- Laser surgery
- Pelvic exenteration
- Pelvic lymph node removal
- Targeted therapy
- Robotic surgery
Cervical Cancer & Your Fertility
Cervical cancer can strike during a woman's childbearing years. Some forms of cervical cancer treatment can damage fertility. If you plan to have children, we'll do everything we can to help preserve your fertility.
If you're pregnant when your cervical cancer is found, we may need to change or delay treatment so we don't harm your baby.
Cervical Cancer Surgery to Remove Abnormal Cells
Because of Pap tests, we can find evidence of cervical cancer before it becomes a full-blown cancer.
We can remove precancerous cells in your cervix. We sometimes call this stage 0 cervical cancer. We offer procedures to prevent abnormal cells from becoming cancer.
We use a laser beam to heat and kill abnormal cells. This intense, narrow beam of light removes the abnormal cells from the cervix.
Cryosurgery freezes off abnormal cells. We apply nitrogen or carbon dioxide liquid to a probe. We then insert the probe through your vagina. Then we put the substance on your cervix.
Conization removes a cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix. It uses a scalpel, cold knife, laser beam, or loop electrosurgery (uses a thin wire heated by an electric current).
After we remove the tissue, we can see if the margins around the sample are clear of any abnormal cells. Then we can tell if you need more treatment.
Early-Stage Cervical Cancer Treatment
Our gynecological oncologists not only perform surgery but also oversee chemotherapy. We use drugs to destroy cervical cancer cells. The chemo drugs travel through the body to the cancer cells. You may need chemotherapy:
- Before cervical cancer surgery to shrink the tumor and decrease the amount of tissue we have to remove
- In combination with radiation therapy to decrease tumor size
- To help relieve symptoms of metastatic cancer (when cancer has spread to other parts of the body)
- To extend survival time
We have medications that can seek out and destroy cancer cells. They can also kill systems that support the cancer cells. One drug used for cervical cancer stops the growth of new blood vessels that help tumors grow.
Surgery for Advanced Cervical Cancer
If your cancer comes back or spreads to nearby organs, you'll need major surgery. We may need to remove organs from your reproductive and digestive systems. This could include your vagina, bladder, rectum, or lower part of the colon.
Pelvic Lymph Node Dissection
Cancer can spread to the lymph nodes located outside the uterus. Once there, cervical cancer can travel to other parts of the body. During surgery, we'll remove some or all lymph nodes suspected of having cancer. We'll then examine the nodes under a microscope.
External Beam Radiation
A machine outside your body produces radiation. The machine directs short bursts of X-rays at the cancer. Generally, this type of radiation therapy lasts 5 days per week for 5-6 weeks. At the end of this cervical cancer treatment, the tumor site often gets an extra dose of radiation.
Brachytherapy delivers high-dose radiation to the cancer cells. We place a capsule with radioactive materials into the cervix. We can also put a capsule in the vagina, just outside of the cervix.
This capsule stays in place for 1-3 days. You can have this treatment repeated several days over the course of 1-2 weeks.
You might need to stay in the hospital while the capsules work. You could also take radiation delivery in minutes instead of days. This gets rid of the need for a hospital stay.
Chemotherapy & Chemoradiation
Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cervical cancer cells. The drugs enter your bloodstream. They then travel through the body to the cancer cells. You might get chemotherapy:
- Before cervical cancer surgery — to shrink the tumor and decrease the amount of tissue we need to remove
- In combination with radiation therapy (chemoradiation) to decrease tumor size
- To help relieve symptoms of metastatic cancer and extend survival time
You get chemotherapy through an IV. Sometimes you can take it by mouth. You get treatment in 4-6 cycles over a set period of time.
Cervical Cancer Clinical Trials
By coming to Virginia's only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, you'll find treatment options if standard therapies aren't enough to fight off your type of cancer. Talk to your provider about a cervical cancer clinical trial that might be right for you. We have trials testing new therapies and surgery for cervical cancer. Learn more about clinical trials and what they mean for you.
Meet UVA Gynecologic Oncologist Leigh Cantrell, MD
Dr. Cantrell joined UVA Health's NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center after training with a pioneer in robotic-assisted surgery. She cares for women facing cervical, ovarian, and other cancers of the female reproductive system.