In many cases, cervical cancer can be cured. “Cured” means there are no signs that cancer cells remain in the body. However, because it is difficult to know whether the cancer may come back, doctors prefer to use the term “in remission” rather than “cured.”
What Does “In Remission” Really Mean?
After treatment, your doctor may tell you that you are in “partial remission” or “complete remission.” Partial remission means that there has been a reduction of at least 50% in the size of the tumor. Complete remission means there are no detectable signs of cancer present.
Some people with cervical cancer who reach complete remission will remain cancer-free for the rest of their lives. Once you’ve been cancer-free for five years, your doctor may say you’re “cured.” Even this, however, is not a guarantee that the cancer will never return. However, it is very encouraging and something to be celebrated!
What Are the Survival Rates for Cervical Cancer?
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the five-year survival rate for cervical cancer is 66%. That means 66 out of every 100 people diagnosed with cervical cancer will live for at least five years after being diagnosed. However, survival rates vary by factors such as age, race, and ethnicity.
- For white women, the 5-year survival rate is 71%
- For Black women, the 5-year survival rate is 58%
- For white women under 50 years of age, the 5-year survival rate is 78%
- For Black women 50 and older, the 5-year survival rate is 46%
The stage of the cancer factors in as well. When cervical cancer is detected early, the 5-year survival rate is very high—92%! In addition, of those who receive treatment for early-stage cervical cancer, 85% to 90% will not experience a recurrence.
This is why cervical cancer screening is so important! Doctors can catch cervical cancer at its earliest stages (and even identify precancerous cells in the cervix) with a Pap test. Most women should have a Pap test done every few years. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists publishes cervical cancer screening recommendations based on age and other factors. If you are in remission from cervical cancer, be sure to follow your oncologist’s guidelines for screening.
How is Cervical Cancer Treated?
Treatment for cervical cancer includes surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.
Surgery. Women with Stage I or Stage II cervical cancer may be treated with surgery. In many cases of early-stage cervical cancer, the cancer can be cured with surgery alone. Your surgeon may perform one of three surgeries.
- Radical trachelectomy. The cervix, part of the vagina, and the lymph nodes in the pelvis are removed. The uterus is left in place. This allows you to become pregnant in the future. This option is available to a small number of women with small tumors.
- Total hysterectomy. The cervix and uterus are removed. The surgeon may also remove other tissues, including the Fallopian tubes, ovaries, and/or lymph nodes near the tumor.
- Radical hysterectomy. The cervix, some tissue surrounding it, the uterus, and part of the vagina are removed. The surgeon may also remove other tissues, including the Fallopian tubes, ovaries, and/or lymph nodes near the tumor.
Radiation therapy is an option for women with any stage of cervical cancer. Some women with early-stage cervical cancer may choose radiation therapy in place of surgery. It may also be used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells in the area. If the cancer has spread beyond the cervix, radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy may be recommended. Radiotherapy for cervical cancer may be external or internal.
Chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy may be used to treat cervical cancer that has spread beyond the cervix. Chemotherapy may also be used to treat cancer that has spread to distant organs.
As a member of the US Oncology Network, Arizona Oncology participates in a number of clinical trials, giving our patients access to treatments that would not otherwise be available to them.
Facts About Cervical Cancer
- This year, an estimated 14,480 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer.
- Black and Hispanic women are more likely to develop the disease than white women.
- Most cervical cancer is caused by exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Having HPV does not mean you will develop cervical cancer.
- The death rate for cervical cancer has dropped by around 50% since the mid-1970s, partly because of increased screening and detection.
- Cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer. It can take many years for abnormal cells to develop into cancer, which is why regular Pap tests are so effective.
- Cervical cancer is most often diagnosed between the ages of 35 and 44.
- Decreasing incidence rates in younger women may be due to the HPV vaccine.
- It is rare for women under the age of 20 to develop cervical cancer.
(statistics from www.cancer.net)
Preventing Cervical Cancer Recurrence
Many cervical cancer survivors want to know how they can prevent cervical cancer from coming back. There are no guarantees that your cancer won’t recur. However, the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of cancer and other health problems is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Even if you have had surgery for cervical cancer, your doctor may still recommend you have regular Pap tests. If you no longer have a cervix, the cells will be taken from the upper part of your vagina.
While there is no specific thing you can do or avoid doing to prevent cervical cancer recurrence, the following activities can lower your overall cancer risk as well as reduce the risk of other health problems.
- Quit smoking
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Keep up with your follow-up appointments and screenings
Talk to your oncologist about other measures you can take to get and stay healthy.