Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Treatment for cervical cancer

Massey’s Gynecologic Oncology Center is led by board-certified gynecologic oncologists who are uniquely trained to diagnose cancers, perform surgery, administer radiation and provide follow-up treatment. With these highly qualified individuals, your care is closely managed.

Treatment for cervical cancer

Specific treatment for cervical cancer will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your overall health and medical history.
  • Extent of the disease.
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies.
  • Expectations for the course of the disease.
  • Your opinion or preference and goals.

Treatment may include:

  • Surgery, including:
    • Cone biopsy.
    • Hysterectomy – surgery to remove the uterus, including the cervix. This procedure may be a simple hysterectomy where only the uterus and cervix are removed, or a radical hysterectomy where the uterus, cervix and supporting tissues are removed.
    • Radiation therapy – the use of energy to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors. Side effects of radiation may include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea and skin changes, but are well-controlled with medication. Radiation for cervical cancer generally combines two ways to deliver the energy beams:
      • External radiation (external beam therapy) – each treatment lasts a few minutes. Generally, 20 to 30 daily treatments are prescribed by a radiation oncologist.
      • Internal radiation (brachytherapy, implant radiation) – radiation is given inside the body as close to the cancer as possible. A capsule containing substances that produce radiation is placed in the cervix. It is usually left in place for a few days. Internal radiation involves giving a higher dose of radiation in a shorter time span than with external radiation. Hospitalization is usually required when an internal radiation implant is in place.
      • Chemotherapy – the use of anti-cancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. The oncologist will recommend a treatment plan for each individual.

In 1999, the National Cancer Institute released a bulletin summarizing the results of five clinical research     studies, which showed a survival benefit of the addition of low-dose chemotherapy to the radiation treatment. The most commonly used drug is Cisplatin. Because Cisplatin is cleared by the kidneys, this drug must be used cautiously in people with kidney problems. Patients may require procedures to unblock the kidneys or be offered other chemotherapy drugs instead of Cisplatin if kidney function is impaired.

The doses of chemotherapy given are low and do not cause hair loss. The most common side effects are fatigue and anemia (low red-blood-cell counts).

  • Biological therapy (also called biological response modifiers, or BRM, therapy or immunotherapy) – fights cancer by using materials made by your own body or made in a laboratory, to boost, direct or restore your body’s natural defenses against disease. Although these treatments are considered experimental in the treatment of cervical cancer, research is ongoing.

Participation in a clinical trial

Ask your physician if a clinical trial exists for your particular situation.