If you’ve been diagnosed with cervical cancer, you’re sure to have a lot of questions. Maybe you just found out you have it, or maybe you’ve already been through treatments and don’t know what comes next.
It’s normal to wonder what your future holds. Knowing the answers to some common questions can help you better understand your situation and make the best choices.
1. It’s possible for your cervical cancer to come back
In a lot of cases, treatment works and the cancer never comes back. But sometimes, it does -- even if your doctor hasn’t detected any signs of it for a long period of time. This is called cancer recurrence.
It’s impossible for your doctor to know how likely it is that your cancer will come back. But if it’s fast-growing, or advanced or widespread cancer, the chances are high. And it may be harder to treat.
If your cancer doesn’t go away after your first treatment, you may have to get regular treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation to keep the cancer under control. Your doctor will discuss your options with you.
2. You may be more likely to get other cancers
Even if you’ve been treated for cervical cancer, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get other types of cancers. In some cases, your chances of developing a second cancer could go up. After cervical cancer, you may be more likely to get:
- Lung cancer
- Mouth, throat, or laryngeal cancers
- Stomach, pancreas, bladder, or ureter cancers
- Vulvar, vaginal, colorectal or anal cancers
If you were treated with radiation, your odds of getting stomach, vagina, vulva, rectum, and urinary bladder cancers are higher. And you may have an increased risk of certain other cancers like acute myeloid leukemia and bone cancer.
Continuing to see your doctor for regular checkups, even if you’re finished with treatment, can help you stay aware of symptoms. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, limiting alcohol, and avoiding tobacco products can help reduce your risks.
3. Whether you’re able to have kids will depend on your treatment
Your ability to get pregnant after getting cervical cancer will depend on the stage of your cancer and the type of treatment you have.
If you have early-stage cancer, you may be able to have less aggressive treatments so you’ll still be able to have children. You’ll probably have to wait 6 to 12 months before you can try to get pregnant so you can heal.
But you could still have problems having a baby because the treatments can affect your fertility. If you do get pregnant, your doctor will need to monitor you closely because you may be more likely to have a miscarriage or early delivery.
If you have a radical hysterectomy or radiation treatment, you won’t be able to become pregnant. But technologies like egg preservation or embryo preservation prior to getting treatment mean you can likely still have a biological child with the help of a surrogate. Talk to your doctor about all your options and concerns.
4. It’s unlikely you’ll pass cervical cancer on to your daughter
It’s possible to pass an increased risk of cervical cancer to your daughter, but it’s not likely. Most cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), not genetic mutations.
Doctors do think, however, that cervical cancer may run in some families. So if you have it, your daughter is 2 to 3 times more likely to have it than someone whose mother did not. This could be because women in the same family are more likely to have a condition that makes it harder for them to fight HPV.
5. Your sex drive might not be the same
A lot of cancers can affect your libido, but when you’re being treated for cervical cancer, you’ll almost definitely notice changes. Chemotherapy and radiation can cause loss of sexual desire, pain, and vaginal dryness. And they could prompt early menopause, which makes the walls of your vagina thinner and less stretchy.
A radical hysterectomy also can cause vaginal dryness and lack of sex drive.
You can use lubricants or vaginal moisturizers to help relieve some of the dryness and other symptoms. Your doctor might also talk to you about hormonal therapy, but this will depend on your age and other factors. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or your partner about any sexual problems or other side effects you’re having after treatment.
6. It’s important to have regular follow-ups with your doctor.
After treatment, you need to have regular follow-up appointments. There’s no single recommended schedule, but you should have physical exams every 3 to 4 months for 2 years. Then every 6 months for the next few years, and then once a year after that.
How often you have follow-up appointments will depend on your specific situation and how long it’s been since you’ve finished your treatment. You should still get a Pap test every year.
Even if you had a treatment like a hysterectomy that removed your cervix, you can still have cervical cells. Because you have a history of cervical cancer, you will likely need to continue having screenings for years after your treatment.