How is cervical cancer treated?
General treatment information
The options for treating each patient with cervical cancer depend on the stage of disease. The stage of a cervical cancer describes its size, depth of invasion (how far it has grown into the cervix), and how far it has spread.
After establishing the stage of your cervical cancer, your cancer care team will recommend your treatment options. Think about your options without feeling rushed. If there is anything you do not understand, ask for an explanation. Although the choice of treatment depends largely on the stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis, other factors that may influence your options are your age, your general health, your individual circumstances, and your preferences. Cervical cancer can affect your sex life and your ability to have children. These concerns should also be considered as you make treatment decisions. (See Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer to learn more about these issues.) Be sure that you understand all the risks and side effects of the various treatments before making a decision.
Depending on the type and stage of your cancer, you may need more than one type of treatment. Doctors on your cancer treatment team may include:
- A gynecologist: a doctor who treats diseases of the female reproductive system
- A gynecologic oncologist: a doctor who specializes in cancers of the female reproductive system
- A radiation oncologist: a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer
- A medical oncologist: a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat cancer
Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including nurse practitioners, nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals.
Common types of treatments for cervical cancer include:
For the earliest stages of cervical cancer, either surgery or radiation combined with chemo may be used. For later stages, radiation combined with chemo is usually the main treatment. Chemo (by itself) is often used to treat advanced cervical cancer.
It is often a good idea to get a second opinion, especially from doctors experienced in treating cervical cancer. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel more confident about choosing a treatment plan. Some insurance companies require a second opinion before they will agree to pay for certain treatments. Almost all will pay for a second opinion. Still, you might want to check your coverage first, so you’ll know if you will have to pay for it.
It is important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decisions that best fit your needs. It’s also very important to ask questions if there’s anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in the section, “What should you ask your doctor about cervical cancer?”
Your recovery is the goal of your cancer care team. If a cure is not possible, the goal may be to remove or destroy as much of the cancer as possible to help you live longer and feel better. Sometimes treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. This is called palliative treatment.
Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial
Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.
If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see “Clinical Trials” to learn more.
Considering complementary and alternative methods
You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.
Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.
Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.
Help getting through cancer treatment
Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.
The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.
Last Medical Review: 09/19/2014
Last Revised: 01/29/2016