Over 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK each year and this preventable disease is most commonly diagnosed in women under 35 and those over 65.
Unfortunately, cervical cancer treatments can affect fertility, making a diagnosis even more difficult for women who have not yet started a family or who planned on having more children.
With cervical cancer, the more advanced the cancer is, the higher the risk of treatments affecting fertility. “If caught early then the treatment for cervical cancer can be conservative, removing only a portion of the cervix, called a cone biopsy,” advises Miss Tania Adib, Consultant Gynaecologist.
“If the cancer is a little more advanced, a radical trachelectomy can be performed to remove the cervix. This procedure also removes some tissue around the cervix and the lymph glands, but leaves the uterus in place.”
If cervical cancer is diagnosed in an advanced stage, the common treatment is to undergo a combined treatment of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which leaves women unable to have children.
Despite the risks associated with the treatments, there are options available for women who wish to have children in the future, as Miss Adib outlines: “Ahead of receiving treatment for cervical cancer, women are able to make arrangements regarding their fertility.
“For a woman with cervical cancer, freezing either eggs or embryos is an option that will increase the chances of having children in the future.”
With the womb left in place after treatment, women can conceive naturally, and the rate of full term pregnancy is high in these women. If the ovarian function has been affected, then they can have the frozen embryos transferred and carried to term.
Currently, there are studies being undertaken to see if it is possible to treat cervical cancer with a lower risk of impacting fertility. Until a more conservative surgical approach can be adopted, Miss Adib emphasises the “importance of cervical cancer screening and the fact that an early diagnosis could prevent future fertility problems.”