Factors to Consider after Cervical Cancer Treatment
The question many women have when they are diagnosed with cervical cancer is whether they will be able to have children after the treatment. The answer is: Yes, it is possible to have children after cervical treatment, but of course there are several factors to consider, factors which we will look at in this article.
Brief understanding of the cervix
Cervical cancer affects the cervix. The cervix is the bottom part of the uterus. It enables the passage of sperm into the uterus and the flow of menstrual blood from the uterus out of the body through the vagina. It even opens up during childbirth to create a passage for the baby. It is therefore an important part of the female reproductive system which explains the concern most women have about being able to have children after cervical cancer treatment.
How can cervical cancer affect fertility?
Cancer treatment generally, not only the treatment of cervical cancer, can cause infertility. Cervical cancer treatment can affect a woman’s ability to have children in the following ways:
- Infertility due to chemotherapy and radiotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the administering of a combination of anti-cancer drugs to kill cancerous cells. However, as the chemo kills cancerous cells, it also kills healthy cells, increasing the risk of damaging eggs in the ovaries thereby increasing the chance of a woman suffering from infertility after the treatment of the cervical cancer.
Radiation therapy, on the other hand, involves directing high energy rays at the pelvis to kill the cancer cells. This exposes the ovaries to radiation which can cause damage to the ovaries and some or all the eggs inside them, causing infertility.
- Treatment of precancers: Some procedures like Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) and cone biopsy can also cause infertility. How is this possible? These procedures involve tissue removal from the cervix and when a large amount of tissue needs to be removed, scarring can occur in the remaining tissue, causing cervical stenosis (a condition that prevents the meeting of the sperm and egg).
Removal of too much tissue can also cause weakening of the cervix leading to cervical impotence which causes the cervix to open painlessly even without contractions, ending in miscarriage especially in the second or early third trimester.
- Removal of cervical glands: Cervical glands help to produce fluid that assists in sperm movement through the cervix to the uterus and therefore the removal of these glands can cause drying of the sperm making them unable to fertilize an egg.
- Hysterectomy: This is what most women diagnosed with cervical cancer dread – having the ovaries and/or the uterus removed to treat cervical cancer – because without a womb, a woman cannot carry a pregnancy and without the ovaries, there is no more production of eggs.
Possibility of Pregnancy after cervical cancer treatment
Being able to have children is not something a woman may want to bargain about, but when it comes to cervical cancer treatment there is the possibility of not being able to have children after the treatment. You need to be aware of your options before you start your treatment.
The following are some of the ways women can preserve their ability to bear children and some options available for those who are unable to have children after cervical cancer treatment:
Fertility Sparing Options
- Conization: This procedure involves removal of cancerous tissue high up in the cervical canal. During this procedure, surrounding healthy tissue is also removed to try and ensure that all the cancer is removed from the body. Conization basically gets rid of small cancerous tumours that are confined to the cervix and aims to help manage the cancer before it progresses and becomes more complicated to treat.
- Radical Trachelectomy: In this procedure, the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes are left intact while the surgeon removes the cervix as well as some surrounding tissue, the nearby lymph nodes and a small portion of the vagina. This procedure usually allows a woman to carry a pregnancy after her treatment. However, women who go through this procedure have to give birth through caesarean section.
- Oocyte Cryopreservation: This procedure involves the freezing of eggs before cancer treatment begins. It can delay the start of treatment while fertility drugs are used to stimulate the production of eggs. The aim is to make it possible for a woman to have a biological child even if her uterus is removed. This is where surrogacy becomes a factor. On the other hand, if the woman’s uterus is not removed but her eggs are damaged, she may still be able to fall pregnant through IVF without having to get an egg donation.
For women who are completely unable to have their own children after cervical cancer treatment, other options such as adoption, are a possibility.
Reducing your Risk of Suffering Infertility after Cervical Cancer Treatment
- Regular testing is the best way to find cervical cancer early. If the cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, it can be treated without causing a lot of harm to your other reproductive organs such as the ovaries. When women are treated for pre-cancers in the early stages, their doctor is better able to remove very small amounts of tissue, so lowering the risk of side effects like cervical stenosis which can affect fertility.
- Living with the fact that they cannot have their own children or are unable to carry a pregnancy after treatment for cervical cancer can be a frustrating issue for most women. Being able to talk to someone, such as a counsellor, about it, or sharing your feelings in a support group can make the experience more bearable and help you in accepting the situation and, most importantly, yourself.
One of our partner hospitals in Dubai, NMC has one of the largest fertility centres in the world, offering fertility options to couples from all over the world including women who have gone through cervical cancer treatment. If you are considering IVF or want a hospital that can offer you world class quality in fertility treatment, Fakih IVF fertility Centre is well worth considering. We at International Medical Treatment (IMT) can help you book appointments at the centre, book for your flights and accommodation, and even help you in getting a visa.
For people in East Africa, the centre has recently opened a fertility centre in Nairobi, Kenya. So, instead of travelling to Dubai, you can have your fertility treatment done at Fertility Point which offers the same standard of treatment as other NMC IVF centres around the world.