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Pelvic exenteration is an operation that’s sometimes used to treat cancer in the pelvis (the area of the body between the hips). This information explains what the operation involves and how you might feel afterwards.
Pelvic exenteration involves removing the bladder and/or part of the lower bowel (rectum), and the internal reproductive organs (the ovaries, womb, cervix and vagina). This operation is only done if there are no signs of cancer anywhere else in the body.
Only specialist surgeons, who are trained and experienced in doing this type of surgery, should carry out pelvic exenteration. So, you may need to be referred to a specialist centre for the operation. Before making the decision to go ahead with any surgery, it’s important to discuss the benefits and risks with your surgeon. This is a major operation, but can cure the cancer in some people.
Before the operation, you will be referred to a specialist cancer nurse who will give you information and emotional support. In some units, the specialist nurse may be called your key worker.
This operation is most often used to treat women who have cervical cancer| that has come back in the pelvis after treatment. It may also be used to treat rectal|, womb|, vaginal| or vulval| cancers that have come back in the pelvis after treatment. Rarely, pelvic exenteration may be used to treat other cancers in the pelvis.
There are different types of pelvic exenteration. The operation you have depends on the type of cancer, where the cancer is in your pelvis, and what treatments| you’ve had before. One of the following operations may be done.
In this operation, the bladder and internal reproductive organs are removed. After the bladder is removed, you’ll need a new place for urine to leave your body. The surgeon will make a new opening (a stoma) on your tummy wall for this, called a urostomy.
Illustration showing the female pelvic organs. The areas removed during anterior pelvic exenteration are shaded over.
View a large version of the image of anterior pelvic exenteration in women|.
In this operation, the lower part of the large bowel (rectum) and internal reproductive organs are removed. The surgeon will make a new opening (stoma) on the tummy wall for bowel motions to leave the body. This is called a colostomy. You’ll wear a bag over the stoma to collect your bowel motions.
Illustration showing the female pelvic organs. The areas removed during posterior pelvic exenteration are shaded over.
View a large version of the image of posterior pelvic exenteration in women|.
In this operation, the bladder, rectum and internal reproductive organs are removed. After the operation, you’ll have two new openings (stomas) on your tummy wall. One of these will be a new place for urine to leave your body, called a urostomy. The other will be a new place for bowel motions to leave your body, called a colostomy.
Illustration showing the female pelvic organs. The areas removed during total pelvic exenteration are shaded over.
View a large version of the image of total pelvic exenteration in women|.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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