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Cervical cancer treatment and stages

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What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer affects a woman’s cervix, like other cancers it is a disease caused by the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in the body.

How are you diagnosed with cervical cancer?

If you have had abnormal results from your most recent cervical screening you may be referred to a specialist. They will be able to find out if these abnormalities are because of cervical cancer or whether they are harmless . If you notice abnormal vaginal bleeding, your GP may refer you to a specialist who will be able to carry out tests and discuss your symptoms with you to find out what is causing them.

Cervical cancer diagnosis can be given after a colposcopy or cervical biopsy. Both of these take a closer look at your cervix and the cells inside them. The colposcopy uses a small microscope to examine your cervix, whereas a biopsy includes a minor operation to remove some of your cervix to be examined under a microscope. If your specialist decides that either one of these procedures would help them to diagnose you, they will talk through the risks, benefits and what is involved before you undergo any kind of test.

What are the stages of cervical cancer?

Once all testing has been completed, and your diagnosis and results have been discussed with you, your doctor should be able to tell you what stage of cancer you have. A stage refers to how far the cancer has spread in your body, the higher the stage the further the cancer has spread.

The stages of cervical cancer include:

  • Stage 0 – pre-cancer – there are no cancerous cells in the cervix however during a cervical screening test cell abnormalities have been detected which could develop into cancer
  • Stage 1 – the cancer is only in the cervix
  • Stage 2 – the cancer has spread to the tissue surround the cervix
  • Stage 3 – the cancer has spread into the lower part of the vagina and/or the pelvic wall
  • Stage 4 – the cancer has spread to the bladder, bowel or other organs

The stage that your cancer has reached will influence which cancer treatments are available to you.

How do you treat cervical cancer?

Treatment for cervical cancer is often complex and a treatment programme is created for each individual depending on their needs and the stage of their cancer. You will be given a team of specialist who will work together to decide which treatment option is best for you, however it is your choice which treatment you decide to embark on.

Treatments for cervical cancer include:

  • Removing some or all of the womb and cervix (hysterectomy)
  • Radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy

Your treatment may include a combination of these options depending on the stage of your cancer. If your cervical cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the prospects of a complete cure is good, however the chances of a complete cure decrease the further the cancer has spread.*

What is a cervical screening test?

Referred to as a smear test, cervical screenings test for abnormal cells in your cervix. You’ll be invited to routine cervical screenings throughout your life, and it’s important that you attend as these tests can detect any changes within the cells and potentially detect cancer.**

What are the early signs of cervical cancer?

The earliest sign of cervical cancer is vaginal bleeding, this can happen after sex. Any bleeding that you experience, that isn’t your period, is deemed abnormal and should be something you talk about with your GP.

What is the cervix?

The cervix is often called the neck of the womb, and it connects your uterus (womb) and vagina together.