Chemo before CRT cuts Cervical Cancer return risk by 35%

Taking the right course of action after being diagnosed with cancer is imperative, as the timing and combination of therapies is just as important as the type of treatment in the first place.

A recent trial

Results from a recent study have shown that giving patients with cervical cancer a short course of chemotherapy before they begin their usual treatment of chemoradiation (CRT) can reduce the risk of the tumour returning or of death by as much as 35 per cent.

The findings, which were funded by Cancer Research UK, could change the way women with cervical cancer are treated.

Over the last 24 years, they have been given a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to reduce the size of their tumour and kill cancer cells.

However, the study has shown giving a six-week course of chemotherapy first could boost their chances of surviving.

Executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK Dr Iain Foulkes noted that “timing is everything when you’re treating cancer”.

“The simple act of adding induction chemotherapy to the start of chemoradiation treatment for cervical cancer has delivered remarkable results in this trial,” he added.

Indeed, 80 per cent of the participants in the study, who were recruited from all over the world, were still alive five years after their treatment, while almost three-quarters had not seen their cancer return or spread to other parts of their body.

This is in comparison with the 72 per cent who were still alive after just being given CRT for their cervical cancer treatment, and the 64 per cent whose cancer had not returned or spread.

Dr Foulkes noted that this breakthrough could help with other cancers, not just cervical cancer.

He said: “A growing body of evidence is showing the value of additional rounds of chemotherapy before other treatments like surgery and radiotherapy in several other cancers.”

As the drugs are already widely available, it can be delivered quickly, helping people to eradicate the cancer as soon as possible, and increase their chances of surviving.

Subsequently, having a six-week course of chemotherapy before CRT could become a standard practice in the future.

Advances in radiation therapy

Although this breakthrough has been hailed as the biggest drug advancement in 20 years, it is not the only progression there has been for cervical cancer treatment.

Radiation therapy has also advanced over the last few years, including volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT).

With this technology, the strength and angle of the radiation alters as the machine rotates, so the radiation is properly targeted on to the areas of concern.

This external radiation therapy gives the tumour the maximum dose of radiation, while still minimising the dose the surrounding areas receive.

Brachytherapy is also effective, as it delivers a dose of radiation directly into the tumour. It does this by placing the seeds, ribbons or capsules into a tube, which knows the exact positioning thanks to MRI scans and computed tomography.

This internal radiation therapy really allows doctors to target the tumour, eradicating any cancer cells from the area. While the tumour can receive a high dose of localised radiation, the healthy tissue will not be damaged.

Immunotherapy options

Immunotherapy is also an option for cervical cancer patients, as they respond well to the treatment due to the fact the cancer is caused by an infection.

It works by using the body’s immune system to destroy the cancer cells.

There have also been advancements in the development of a treatment that involves manipulating lymphocytes, which are immune cells that are found inside the tumour. By harvesting the lymphocytes and making them reproduce and multiply, scientists can then use them to attack the tumour by placing them back inside of it.

Signs of cervical cancer to look out for

Like any other type of cancer, the earlier cervical cancer is discovered, the better the prognosis is likely to be.

What’s more, if it is found as soon as possible, there are more options available with regards to treatment.

However, cervical cancer can be hard to discover, as it does not cause external lumps, such as with breast cancer.

Instead, it begins in the cells of the cervix. They then go through a process called dysplasia, turning them into abnormal cells, which then develop into cancer cells and spread further into the cervix tissue.

It is caused by long-lasted HPV infections, which can be transmitted through sex or skin-to-skin contact.

These days, older children can receive a vaccine to protect themselves from the HPV infection, which will reduce incidences of cervical cancer in the future. Although it is not usually given to people over the age of 26, it could be effective for some adults to avoid getting new HPV infections.

However, for those who have not received the jab, the only way to detect whether they have cervical cancer is through a Pap screening. This detects whether there are abnormal cells in the cervix that need further investigation.

They should also be on the lookout for common symptoms of cervical cancer, as they could flag these up with their doctor and request an earlier screening if they are concerned.

Signs of early stage cervical cancer include:

  • Bleeding after sex
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Heavier or longer periods than normal
  • Pain during sex
  • Pelvic pain
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Vaginal discharge with a strong odour or containing blood

If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, there are other signs to look out for. These include:

  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Bleeding from the rectum when having a bowel movement
  • Blood in the urine or painful urination
  • Leg swelling
  • Dull backaches

Although these could also be caused by countless other conditions, if you are experiencing more than one or are concerned about the symptom, it is sensible to seek advice from a doctor as soon as possible.

If it turns out to be cervical cancer, it is best to start treatment, whether this includes chemotherapy followed by CRT, just a course of CRT, surgery, or immunotherapy, as soon as possible for the best results.

Your oncologist will be able to advise on the right course of action to take for your stage of cancer, age, and general health, so you have the greatest chances of surviving.