Cervical cancer can spread throughout a woman’s pelvic region and also invade more distant tissues. Most symptoms of cervical cancer are caused by the damage it does as it spreads. The spread of a cancer from its original location to other areas of your body is known as metastasis. Treatment for cervical cancer can also have significant side effects.
Keep reading to learn more about complications from both the spread of cervical cancer and the various treatments for this disease.
Cervical cancer can spread to surrounding structures and organs. What was a noninvasive cancer has changed to something called a locally invasive carcinoma in situ. This means that the mass of cancer cells has gained access to the rest of the body.
Cancerous cells may spread through the vessels of your lymph system. They first move to lymph nodes in your pelvis or near your aorta, the largest artery in the body. These pelvic and para-aortic lymph nodes are called regional lymph nodes, the nodes closest to the site of the cancer.
From there, the cancer can travel to distant sites. It can invade your bone and liver, and it can also affect your lungs and brain. Complications of invasive cancer may include:
- pain during sex
- back pain
- bone pain or fractures
- leakage of urine or feces from your vagina
- leg pain
- loss of appetite
Metastatic cancer carries a lower survival rate than noninvasive or locally invasive cancer.
Treatment side effects
In addition to the complications cervical cancer itself causes, treatment of the disease can also come with serious side effects. Side effects may be easier to prevent than reverse. It’s important to discuss the risk of side effects with your doctor before undergoing treatment.
You may want to seek a second opinion before treatment begins. It’s particularly important to tell your doctor if you plan to have children, as one major complication of treatment is infertility.
Treatment options for cervical cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Each has its own set of side effects.
Side effects associated with surgery depend on the type of surgery performed. In general, the less extensive the surgery, the fewer side effects it will have.
A hysterectomy is the removal of your uterus. You won’t be able to get pregnant after a hysterectomy.
If your ovaries are removed during surgery, you’ll enter menopause. Drugs and lifestyle changes can help reduce the symptoms of menopause. These symptoms usually decrease over time.
There is a risk of bladder damage during surgery, but urinary issues are usually temporary.
A hysterectomy doesn’t affect your ability to feel sexual pleasure. However, some women have psychological barriers to intimacy after this surgery.
Conization involves the surgical removal of a cone-shaped piece of the cervix and possibly the cervical canal. The amount of tissue removed depends on the severity of the cancer. This procedure can damage the structure of the cervix, making it difficult to carry a pregnancy to term. It increases the risk of a preterm birth or miscarriage.
Repeated conization increases this risk. Loop electrical excision procedures may be safer than conization performed with a knife. Laser ablation involves similar risks.
Radiation therapy can cause numerous side effects. Short-term side effects include:
- upset stomach
- loose bowels
Side effects that may continue after the end of treatment include:
- vaginal dryness
- painful intercourse
- premature menopause
- problems with urination
Side effects of internal radiation (or brachytherapy) include irritation of your vagina and vulva after the procedure.
Radiation can also cause scar tissue to form in your vagina. This can lead to a condition called vaginal stenosis. This narrowing or shortening of your vagina can cause problems during sex. It can also make medical follow-up difficult.
Stenosis can be prevented by regular stretching of the vaginal tissues during and after treatment. You can use dilators for this purpose. Sexual intercourse can also be used as therapy.
Different chemotherapy regimens have their own specific sets of possible and likely side effects. Generally speaking, some of the more common chemotherapy side effects include:
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- hair loss
- mouth sores
- increased risk of infection
- increased bleeding or bruising
- shortness of breath
These side effects usually disappear once treatment ends.
There are many treatment options available for cervical cancer. Not all people respond to a treatment in the same way. It’s important to talk to your doctor extensively about your treatment plan and to possibly get a second opinion.