Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D.
April 1, 2010
Cervical cancer affects the lower part of the uterus (cervix), which connects the upper uterus (where babies grow) to the birth canal. While surgeries required for late stage cervical cancer make future pregnancies impossible, early detection allows treatments that increase your chance of remaining fertile and carrying your baby to term.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
The most common cause is the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. If you're infected, the virus can remain in your body and cause abnormal cervical cell changes many years later. Safe sex may reduce your risk.
According to the American Cancer Association genetics may also play a role. If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of developing it are two-to-three times higher than women with no family history of the disease.
Pregnant and non-pregnant women have the same risk of developing cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer symptoms often don't appear until after the cancer has spread into nearby tissue. That's why annual Pap tests are so important: they can detect the cancer before it spreads.
Symptoms may include: bleeding after sex, douching or a pelvic exam; a vaginal discharge with blood; bleeding and spotting between periods and after menopause; and longer or heavier menstrual periods. Another symptom is painful intercourse. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your healthcare provider right away.
Pre-Cancer Treatments and Pregnancy
According to CancerHelpUK, if your pap test reveals the growth of pre-cancerous cells in your cervix, you can be treated with surgeries such as laser ablation, cone biopsy and large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ) without compromising your fertility. However, cone biopsies and LLETZs may increase the risk of premature birth or low birth weight.
Another early-stage surgery that preserves your ability to conceive is radical trachelectomy, which removes the cervix but not the uterus. Retaining the uterus allows the woman to carry the embryo.
Later-Stage Cancer Treatments
The later-stage surgery for cervical cancer is usually a hysterectomy, which prevents your ability to conceive and carry a baby.
Other possible later-stage treatments are radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of the two. Depending on the type and dose, and the woman's age, chemotherapy drugs may or may not damage eggs stored in the ovaries.
For more information visit the American Cancer Society or CancerHelpUK.
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