After treatment for cervical cancer
After your treatment has finished you will need to have regular check-ups. These will often go on for several years and may include blood tests, x-rays or scans.
If you have any problems or ongoing side effects from the treatment, or notice any new symptoms between your check-ups, let your doctor or specialist nurse know as soon as possible.
Many women who are treated for early-stage cervical cancer will be completely cured of their cancer and their cancer won’t come back.
Nicola shares her experience of living with and after cervical cancer.
What if the cancer comes back?
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The first couple of times I went back I was quite anxious - being in the same place, it just brings back all the memories of being there and how scared you were, and you’re quite relieved when you go home. The more time goes on it becomes better, much better.
If the cancer does come back, you will be given further treatment. The treatment you have will depend on where the cancer is and which treatments you’ve had before. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and these may be given alone or in combination.
Very occasionally, if the cancer comes back just in the pelvic area, it may be possible to have an operation called a pelvic exenteration. This is a major operation and involves removing some or all of the organs in the pelvis, including the womb, cervix, vagina, fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder and the lower end of the large bowel (rectum). It’s only suitable for a small number of women, and various investigations and scans will be needed to see if it’s possible. If a pelvic exenteration is suitable for you, your hospital consultant will give you more detailed information about this operation and what to expect.
If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body (such as the lungs, liver or bone), then chemotherapy is usually given.
After treatment you’ll probably be keen to get back to doing the things you did before your cancer diagnosis. But you may still be coping with side effects of treatment, such as tiredness, and also with some difficult emotions. Recovery takes time, so try not to be hard on yourself.
It’s not unusual to feel anxious and even a bit isolated at this time. Women often worry about the cancer coming back, and that any new symptom is a sign that it has returned. If you have any concerns or questions it’s important to talk these over with your hospital doctor, specialist nurse or GP. They can tell you if there’s anything you should or shouldn’t be doing, and how to make the most of your health.
Lifestyle changes - making positive decisions
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When you’ve had time to recover from your treatment you may want to think about making changes to your lifestyle and find out more about healthy living. Perhaps you already followed a healthy lifestyle before your cancer, but you may now want to be more focused on making the most of your health. There are things you can do to help your body recover. These can also help improve your sense of wellbeing and lower your risk of getting other illnesses and some cancers.
Eating well and keeping to a healthy weight
Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (at least five portions a day) and eat more high-fibre foods. Cut down on red meat, animal fats and salted, pickled and smoked foods.
Regular exercise can be an important part of your recovery after treatment. It can improve your sense of wellbeing and build up your energy levels. It also reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and bone thinning (osteoporosis). Talk to your cancer specialist or GP before you start. Start slowly and increase your activity over time.
If you're a smoker, speak to your doctor or call a stop smoking helpline for further advice and to find out where your local stop smoking service is.
Alcohol has been linked with an increased risk of developing some types of cancer. So try to stick to sensible drinking guidelines, which recommend that women drink less than two units a day and have at least a couple of alcohol-free days each week.
It’s common to have different and sometimes difficult feelings after cancer treatment. But as you recover and get back to your everyday life, these usually become easier to deal with.
The type of treatment you’ve had can have an effect on how you feel. Some women may experience ongoing side effects, which can be difficult to cope with emotionally. Talking to family and friends about how you’re feeling often helps. Ask your doctor or nurse for advice and support.
Some women find the impact of the cancer leaves them feeling depressed, helpless or anxious. Let your doctor or nurse know how you’re feeling, as there’s specialist help available to help you cope with these feelings. Your hospital consultant or GP can refer you to a psychologist or counsellor who specialises in the emotional problems of people with cancer.
Our cancer support specialists can tell you more about counselling and let you know about services in your area.
Self-help or support groups offer a chance to talk to other women who may be in a similar situation and facing the same challenges as you. Joining a group can be helpful if you live alone or don’t feel able to talk about your feelings with people you know. Not everyone finds talking in a group easy, so it might not be for you. Try going along to see what the group is like before you join.
Many people get support through the internet. There are online support groups, social networking sites, forums, chat rooms and blogs for people affected by cancer. You can use these to share your experience and to ask questions, get and give advice based on your cancer experience.
Our online community is a social networking site where you can talk to people in our chat rooms, blog your journey, make friends and join support groups.