Living as a cervical cancer survivor
For some women with cervical cancer, treatment may remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You’ll be relieved to finish treatment, yet it’s hard not to worry about the cancer coming back. This is very common if you’ve had cancer.
For other women, the cancer may never go away completely. These women may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other therapies to try to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful.
Life after cervical cancer means returning to some familiar things and also making some new choices.
Ask your doctor for a survivorship care plan
Talk with your doctor about developing a survivorship care plan for you. This plan might include:
- A suggested schedule for follow-up exams and tests
- A schedule for other tests you might need in the future, such as early detection (screening) tests for other types of cancer, or tests to look for long-term health effects from your cancer or its treatment
- A list of possible late- or long-term side effects from your treatment, including what to watch for and when you should contact your doctor
- Diet and physical activity suggestions
Typical follow-up schedules after cervical cancer
Even if you have completed treatment, you will probably have follow-up visits with your doctor for many years. It’s very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask if you are having any problems and may do exams and lab tests or imaging tests to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects.
Some treatment side effects might last a long time or might not even show up until years after you have finished treatment. Your doctor visits are a good time to ask questions and talk about any changes or problems you notice or concerns you have.
To some extent, the frequency of follow up visits and tests will depend on the stage of your cancer and the chance of it coming back.
Your doctor will probably recommend you have a physical exam every 3 to 6 months for the first couple of years after treatment, then every 6 months or so for the next few years. People who were treated for early-stage cancers may need exams less often.
Most doctors recommend that women treated for cervical cancer keep getting regular Pap tests no matter how they were treated (surgery or radiation). Although cells for a Pap test are normally from the cervix, if you no longer have a cervix (because you had a trachelectomy or hysterectomy), the cells will be taken from the upper part of the vagina.
Whether or not your doctor recommends imaging tests will depend on the stage of your cancer and other factors. CT scans may be done if you have worrisome symptoms of the cancer coming back.
Survivors of cervical cancer should also follow the American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of cancer, such as those for breast, lung, and colorectal cancer.
Keeping health insurance and copies of your medical records
Even after treatment, it’s very important to keep health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.
At some point after your cancer treatment, you might find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesn’t know about your medical history. It’s important to keep copies of your medical records to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Learn more in Keeping Copies of Important Medical Records.
Can I lower my risk of cervical cancer progressing or coming back?
If you have (or have had) cervical cancer, you probably want to know if there are things you can do that might lower your risk of the cancer growing or coming back, such as exercising, eating a certain type of diet, or taking nutritional supplements. At this time, it’s not yet clear if those things will help.
It is known that smoking is linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer. While it’s not clear if smoking can affect cervical cancer growth or recurrence, it is still helpful to stop smoking to decrease your risk of getting another smoking related cancer (see Can I get another cancer after having cervical cancer?). Not smoking can also help you tolerate chemotherapy and radiation better and decrease further damage to the cells of the cervix or cervical area.
Adopting other healthy behaviors such as eating well, getting regular physical activity, and staying at a healthy weight might help, but no one knows for sure. However, we do know that these types of changes can have positive effects on your health that can extend beyond your risk of cervical cancer or other cancers.
About dietary supplements
So far, no dietary supplements (including vitamins, minerals, and herbal products) have been shown to clearly help lower the risk of cervical cancer progressing or coming back. This doesn’t mean that no supplements will help, but it’s important to know that none have been proven to do so.
Dietary supplements are not regulated like medicines in the United States – they do not have to be proven effective (or even safe) before being sold, although there are limits on what they’re allowed to claim they can do. If you’re thinking about taking any type of nutritional supplement, talk to your health care team. They can help you decide which ones you can use safely while avoiding those that might be harmful.
Can I get another cancer after having cervical cancer?
Cancer survivors can be affected by a number of health problems, but often a major concern is facing cancer again. Cancer that comes back after treatment is called a recurrence. But some cancer survivors may develop a new, unrelated cancer later. This is called a second cancer.
Unfortunately, being treated for cervical cancer doesn’t mean you can’t get another cancer. Women who have had cervical cancer can still get the same types of cancers that other women get. In fact, they might be at higher risk for certain types of cancer, including:
- Cancers of the mouth and throat
- Cancer of the larynx (voice box)
- Anal cancer
- Vulvar cancer
- Vaginal cancer
- Lung cancer
- Cancers of the bladder and ureter
- Stomach cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Pancreas cancer
The increased risks of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and cancers of the rectum, bladder, and soft tissue seem to be linked to treatment with radiation.
Can I lower my risk of getting a second cancer?
There are steps you can take to lower your risk and stay as healthy as possible. For example, women who have had cervical cancer should do their best to stay away from tobacco products. Smoking might further increase the risk of some of the second cancers that are more common after cervical cancer.
To help maintain good health, cervical cancer survivors should also:
- Get to and stay at a healthy weight
- Keep physically active
- Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods
- Limit alcohol to no more than 1 drink per day
These steps may also lower the risk of some other health problems.
See Second Cancers in Adults for more information about causes of second cancers.
Getting emotional support
Some amount of feeling depressed, anxious, or worried is normal when cervical cancer is a part of your life. Some women are affected more than others. But everyone can benefit from help and support from other people, whether friends and family, religious groups, support groups, professional counselors, or others. Learn more in Emotions After Cancer Treatment.
Last Medical Review: 11/16/2016
Last Revised: 12/05/2016