Cervical Cancer Complications

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 10, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on July 10, 2014

Complications of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer can be very hard on the body. It can spread throughout the pelvic region and may also invade more distant tissues. Most of the symptoms of cervical cancer are caused by the damage it does as it spreads. The spreading of a cancer is known as metastasis.

Cervical cancer treatment can also have significant side effects.

Cervical Cancer Metastases

Cervical Cancer Metastases | Metastases

Cervical cancer can metastasize to surrounding structures and organs. This transition from noninvasive cancer to locally invasive carcinoma in situ (CIS) is a grave milestone. It signals that the mass of cancer cells has gained access to the rest of the body.

Cancerous cells may spread through the vessels of the lymph system. They first move to lymph nodes in the pelvis or near the aorta. The aorta is the largest artery in the body. These pelvic and para-aortic lymph nodes are called regional lymph nodes. They are the nodes closest to the site of the cancer. From there, the cancer can travel to distant sites. It can invade the bone and the liver. It can also affect the lungs, or brain. Complications of invasive cancer may include:

  • pain during sex
  • back pain
  • bone pain or fractures
  • leaking of urine or feces from the vagina
  • leg pain
  • loss of appetite

Metastatic cancer carries a lower survival rate than noninvasive or locally invasive cancer.

Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Cancer not only causes complications directly, but its treatment may also be accompanied by serious side effects. Side effect symptoms may be easier to prevent than reverse. Therefore, it is important to discuss the risk of side effects before undergoing treatment.

You may want to seek a second opinion before treatment begins. Not all treatments may be right for all patients. It is particularly important to tell your doctor if you plan to have children. One of the major complications associated with treatment is infertility.

Side Effects of Cancer Surgery

Side effects associated with surgery depend on the type of surgery used. In general, the less extensive the surgery, the fewer side effects it will have.

Hysterectomy

A hysterectomy involves removal of the uterus. You will not be able to get pregnant after a hysterectomy.

If your ovaries are removed during surgery, you will enter menopause. Drugs and lifestyle changes can help reduce symptoms. Symptoms will usually decrease naturally over time.

There is a risk of bladder damage during surgery, but urinary problems are usually temporary.

Hysterectomy does not affect your ability to feel sexual pleasure. However, some women have psychological barriers to intimacy after surgery.

Conization

Conization involves the surgical removal of a cone-shaped piece of the cervix and possibly the cervical canal as well. The amount of tissue removed depends on the severity of the cancer. This procedure can damage the structure of the cervix. This can make it difficult to carry a pregnancy to term. There is an increased risk of preterm birth or miscarriage. Repeated conization increases this risk. Loop electrical excision procedures (LEEP) may be safer than conization performed with a knife.

Similar risks are also seen with laser ablation.

Side Effects of Radiation for Cervical Cancer

Radiation therapy can cause numerous side effects. Short-term side effects include:

  • tiredness
  • upset stomach
  • loose bowels
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Side effects that may continue after the end of treatment include:

  • vaginal dryness
  • painful intercourse
  • premature menopause
  • problems with urination

Radiation can also cause scar tissue to form in the vagina. This can lead to a condition called vaginal stenosis. This narrowing or shortening of the 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. This can be done using dilators. Sexual intercourse can also be used as therapy.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Different chemotherapy regimens have their own specific sets of possible and likely side effects.  Generally speaking, some of the more common potential chemotherapy side effects include:

  • fatigue
  • 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.

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