Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
A couple weeks ago, we talked about Stage 4 Cervical Cancer and the effects of this devastating disease that has affected people such as Joey Feek, Puff Johnson, and Erin Andrews. Today, I’d like to talk with you about Stage 3 Cervical Cancer, how it differs, and what this diagnosis means for you and your loved ones.
Cervical Cancer Stages
Cervical cancer is staged based on how far it has spread, and just as with many other cancers, these stages are defined by the TNM staging system. Stage 3 cervical cancer can be subdivided into two groups – A and B. In both of these divisions, they are defined as T3 (a or b), N (any), M0. So, what this means is that at this point, lymph nodes may or may not be affected and there are no distant metastases. In both of these cases, the cancer has spread to the lower part of the vagina or to the walls of the pelvis and is possibly blocking the ureters (the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder). In stage 3B cervical cancer it has invaded the pelvic walls and/or invaded the ureters, as opposed to stage 3A where those criteria may be met.
Stage 3 Cervical Cancer Survival Rates
Although the five-year survival rates for stage 3 cervical cancer are twice as high as those in stage four, they are still frightening numbers. A diagnosis of stage 3A cervical cancer carries a five-year survival rate of 35%, with stage 3B coming in at only 32%. A life expectancy number for stage 3 cervical cancer is hard to determine as it is influenced by so many factors.
Please remember to take these numbers with a grain of salt – five-year survival rates are based upon diagnoses that were made at least five years ago – new treatments are being conceived every day. With these new treatments brings changes to these numbers.
Cervical Cancer Screening and Treatment
Speaking of changes to the numbers, the incidence of all cervical cancers in the US have dropped by 50% in the period between 1975 and 2014 – decreasing from 14.8 per 100,000 to 6.9 per 100,000. It is thought that this drastic drop in the incidence is due to the increase in routine screening via pap smears, where precancerous lesions can be identified prior to the development of cancer. Mortality rates have seen similar drops over the same time period.
The most common treatment for stage 3 cervical cancer is a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. Chemotherapeutic drugs such as cisplatin with or without fluorouracil are the standard of care. Radiation is often given as a combination of both external beam radiation and brachytherapy. Brachytherapy is a treatment where little beads containing radiation are implanted in or near the tumor to deliver a constant dose of radiation.
Symptoms of Stage 3 Cervical Cancer
One of the biggest difficulties with cervical cancer is its silence in early stages. It isn’t until the disease has spread to neighboring tissues that it begins to show symptoms. Symptoms of cervical cancer can mirror those of other conditions, so if you begin to notice these symptoms, please discuss them with your doctor.
- Pain during intercourse
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding – between periods or after intercourse, or abnormal discharge at any time
- Difficulty urinating
- Changes to your menstrual cycle – longer or heavier than normal periods
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
Resources for Cervical Cancer Patients
If this disease has entered your life, know that you aren’t alone. We at Cancer Horizons have compiled a great listing of products that are made just for ladies experiencing cancer treatments. From wigs and head coverings, to skin care formulated for radiation treatments, there are hundreds of groups out there waiting to help you in this journey.
If maintaining fertility is a concern for you, please take a look at our Young Adult Help page for a link to the Caporal Assistance Network. These fabulous folks can help provide financial assistance to you in your effort to maintain your ability to have children.
As always, much love, abundant blessings, and many prayers to all of the cancer warriors and their families.