Can Cervical Cancer be Treated with Medication?

How chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy drugs are used in the treatment of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, and a variety of anti-cancer drugs, which are sometimes referred to as systemic therapies.

Cervical cancer is cancer that begins in the part of the female reproductive system called the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. Each case of cervical cancer is different, and treatment requires an individualized approach. This means that a treatment that is a good choice for one person may not be the best choice for another person.

A person who is diagnosed with cervical cancer will work with a gynecologic oncologist, a medical doctor with specialized training in diagnosing and treating cancers of the female reproductive system. While your healthcare provider will be your best source of information, it helps to understand the treatment options that you may discuss.

Below, we look at the medications and other therapies that may be used to treat cervical cancer.

Can cervical cancer be treated with medication?

Cervical cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, and a variety of anti-cancer drugs, which are sometimes referred to as systemic therapies.

Surgery will be used to stage the cancer, which will help determine the best approach to treatment. Systemic therapies are typically used when cervical cancer is advanced. Systemic therapies include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying. These drugs are typically given as an injection or an infusion. Chemotherapy can affect fertility. As with every treatment option discussed here, the risk of fertility problems should be discussed with a healthcare team before beginning treatment.
  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy drugs help the immune system identify and attack cancer cells. The immunotherapy drug used to treat cervical cancer works by blocking a protein called PD-1. This causes the immune system to act more aggressively, which helps it attack cancer cells. Lab tests may be done to help determine if the cancer will respond to this treatment. Immunotherapy is a newer treatment option, and it is not known if this treatment may impact fertility.
  • Targeted therapy. Targeted therapies target specific molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. One example for cervical cancer is angiogenesis inhibitors, drugs that block the formation of new blood vessels that supply nutrients and oxygen to tumors. Another example is an antibody-drug conjugate (ADC), a targeted therapy drug combined with a chemotherapy drug. Targeted therapy drugs may affect fertility, and the potential impact on fertility should be discussed with a healthcare team.

Sometimes, these medications are used in combination with one another. For example, immunotherapy or targeted therapy may be used in combination with chemotherapy.

Surgery and radiation therapy

In addition to medications like those discussed above, a treatment plan may include surgery and radiation therapy.

Surgical treatment for cervical cancer involves removing tumors and/or removing organs and tissues where the tumors have formed. Some types of surgery, such as conization and trachelectomy can help maintain fertility. Other types of surgery, like hysterectomy, can be used in cases where maintaining fertility is not a treatment goal.

Radiation therapy uses high doses of high energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. Because radiation therapy will affect the womb and ovaries, it will not be possible for a person to become pregnant following treatment.

Making treatment decisions

Spend some time thinking about your treatment goals and your priorities, and discuss these with your healthcare provider. Advocate for yourself, your priorities in life, and your treatment goals. As mentioned above, cervical cancer is a different experience for every person. It’s important to make sure that your treatment plan meets your needs.

Article sources open article sources

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National Cancer Institute. What Is Cervical Cancer?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed and Treated?
NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Systemic therapy.
National Cancer Institute. Fertility Issues in Girls and Women with Cancer.
American Cancer Society. Immunotherapy for Cervical Cancer.
American Cancer Society. Targeted Therapy for Cervical Cancer.
Atsushi Imai, Satoshi Ichigo, et al. Ovarian function following targeted anti-angiogenic therapy with bevacizumab. Molecular and Clinical Oncology, 2017. Vol. 6, No. 6.
American Cancer Society. Chemotherapy for Cervical Cancer.
Cancer Research UK. Fertility and cervical cancer.
NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Trachelectomy.
NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Hysterectomy.
Josephine R. Fowler, Elizabeth V. Maani, Charles J. Dunton, and Brian W. Jack. Cervical Cancer. StatPearls. November 2, 2022.

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