Download an informational brochure about hysterectomy.
Cervical cancer starts when some cells in the cervix, the opening between the uterus and the vagina, begin to change. Typically, the progression of cervical cells is from pre-cancerous to cancerous, making annual testing for cervical cancer important for every woman. The earlier cervical cancer is caught the better the outcome.
Cervical Cancer at UVM Medical Center
Treatment for cervical cancer is best managed by a group of gynecologic cancer specialists. These experts include robotic surgeons who specialize in gynecologic oncology. Our team uses the latest technology and most advanced procedures to treat cervical cancer. Our Robotic Surgery for Cervical Cancer Treatment is minimally invasive, which means less pain and a shorter recovery time. We make all diagnostic and treatment recommendations based on the latest thinking in the field.
Cervical Cancer Diagnosis
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the top of the vagina. Cervical cancer begins in the lining of the cervix and usually grows slowly. The most common cause of cervical cancer is HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. A Pap test can find changes in the cells of the cervix caused by HPV. While there is no cure for HPV, the abnormal cell growth they cause can be treated. There is a HPV vaccine. It's recommended that parents of kids aged 13 - 15 talk to their doctors about sexual activity and ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HPV. Even though HPV is an important risk factor for cervical cancer, most women with this infection do not get cervical cancer. Doctors believe other risk factors must be present for this cancer to develop, including:
- A history of smoking
- Using birth control pills for more than five straight years
- Having many full-term pregnancies
- Sexually transmitted infections, such as:
- Inconsistent health care
- Family history
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Early cervical pre-cancers or cancer often have no signs or symptoms. That's why it's important for women to have regular Pap tests. Symptoms of cervical cancer usually appear when the cancer is further along.
You should tell your doctor right away if you have:
- Any unusual discharge from the vagina (not your normal period)
- Blood spots or light bleeding other than your normal period
- Bleeding or pain after sex, douching, or after a pelvic exam
Of course, these symptoms may not mean that you have cancer. They can also be caused by something else, but you must check with your doctor to find out.
If you had an abnormal Pap test or you are experiencing unusual symptoms, we will typically perform one of more test to confirm a diagnosis:
- Colposcopy: This is the first step after a Pap test. We take a specialized microscope called a colposcope to examine your cervix. We have an expert colposcopy clinic right here at our Women’s Health Care Center.
- Cone biopsy: We take a cone-shaped piece of tissue from your cervix. Examining it under a microscope can provide a definitive diagnosis of either cervical cancer or cervical dysplasia (a precancerous condition). There are two types of cone biopsies:
- Cold knife cone biopsy: We use a surgical scalpel or laser to remove the tissue. You will receive either general or spinal anesthesia before the procedure.
- LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) biopsy: For this biopsy, your physician uses a loop of thin wire heated with an electric current to remove the tissue sample. You receive a local anesthetic before the procedure.
Treatments for Cervical Cancer
Our team is in regular communication, ensuring that we are all on the same page regarding your care. Your cervical cancer team may include experts in:
- Radiation oncology
- Medical oncology
- Nursing oncology
Cervical Cancer Treatment Options
Your treatment for cervical cancer will depend on the stage of cancer:
- Early (stages 1 and 2): The cancer is in the cervix and has not spread to nearby structures
- Advanced (stages 3 and 4): The cancer is more invasive and has spread
Early Stage Cervical Cancer Treatment
For early-stage cervical cancer, we will usually perform a radical hysterectomy, followed by chemotherapy, with or without radiation therapy. We are the only center in the state performing radical hysterectomy procedures. During the surgery, we remove the uterus and the upper part of the vagina. We normally do not remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
The goals of the treatments that follow (chemotherapy and possibly radiation therapy) are to destroy remaining cancer cells and prevent cancer from recurring (coming back).
Benefits of Robotic Surgery for Cervical Cancer
Approximately 80 percent of the hysterectomy procedures we perform are robotic surgeries. Our robotic surgeons are specially trained in the most advanced surgical technology available. The robotic system gives our surgeons superior dexterity and ability to access hard-to-reach places. Robotic surgery is ideal for gynecologic surgery, enabling us to avoid manipulating delicate nerves and tissue surrounding the tumor. Robotic surgeries use small incisions rather than a large abdominal one. Generally, patients go home sooner and recover faster. Other benefits include:
- Significantly less pain after surgery
- Less scarring
- Less blood loss and fewer transfusions
Learn more about da Vinci® robotic surgery for hysterectomy.
Advanced Cervical Cancer Treatment
If the cancer is advanced, we generally do not perform a hysterectomy. The surgery will not be effective against cancer that is spreading. We will most likely recommend:
- Chemotherapy, often combined with radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy: The drug Avastin® targets cancer cells, preventing the tumors from forming new blood cells. Without a blood supply, the tumor will die.
- Radiation therapy: We use IMRT, a targeted form of radiation therapy. We shape the radiation beam to match the tumor precisely. This allows us to use a higher dose of radiation to destroy the tumor without damaging surrounding healthy tissue.