Small cell cancer of the cervix | Cancer Research UK
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Small cell cancer of the cervix

 

What small cell cancer of the cervix is

Small cell cancer of the cervix is a very rare type of cancer that starts in the neck of the womb. Fewer than 3 in 100 women (3%) diagnosed with cervical cancer will have this type. It is called small cell because under a microscope the cells appear small, round or egg shaped, with a large nucleus. Small cell cancers tend to grow quickly and need to be treated early.

It can be difficult to find out what causes a rare cancer because there is relatively little research available. Doctors have found that, like other types of cervical cancer, small cell cervical cancer is associated with the human papilloma virus, especially HPV 18.

 

Symptoms and diagnosis of small cell cancer of the cervix

The symptoms of small cell cervical cancer are the same as for other types of cancer of the cervix. The most common is bleeding from the vagina (when you are not having a period). There is more information about cervical cancer symptoms in our cervical cancer section.

Doctors diagnose this type of cancer by removing a small piece of tissue from the cervix (a biopsy) and sending it to a laboratory, where a pathologist examines it under a microscope.

 

Treating small cell cancer of the cervix

Treatment for small cell cervical cancer usually starts soon after you’ve had your biopsy and diagnosis - before you have any more tests. This is different from other types of cervical cancer, where you would usually have other tests before you start treatment. We know from research that you are likely to do better with small cell cancer if you start treatment as soon as possible.

Doctors usually treat small cell cervical cancer with a combination of

Chemotherapy is usually the first treatment you have. The chemotherapy for small cell cervical cancer is different from other types of cervical cancer. Doctors treat it in a similar way as they would a small cell cancer of the lung, because the same type of cell is involved in both cancers. Small cell cancer of the lung is much more common, so doctors have been able to do more research into drug treatments for this than they have for small cell cervical cancer.

You will have a combination of 2 or 3 chemotherapy drugs. The drugs that doctors usually give are

How often you have treatment depends on which drugs you have. The treatment usually lasts for 4 to 6 months. The side effects will depend on the type of chemotherapy you have. The links above will take you to pages on the specific side effects of each drug. You can find out more about chemotherapy side effects generally in our section on chemotherapy.

You may also have external radiotherapy treatment alongside chemotherapy. You will probably start radiotherapy a couple of weeks after the chemotherapy. You have radiotherapy for a few minutes each day (Monday to Friday) over a period of 4 to 5 weeks. It doesn’t hurt, it is a bit like having an X-ray. There is more about having radiotherapy in our cervical cancer section.

You may also have internal radiotherapy or brachytherapy. This is when you have a radiation source put inside your vagina, near to the cancer, for a few hours at a time. There is more information about this in our section about treating cervical cancer.

Surgery for small cell cervical cancer is the same as for other types of cervical cancer. You will usually need to have your womb completely removed (a total hysterectomy). There is more information in our section about surgery for cervical cancer.

 

Coping with small cell cancer of the cervix

It can be very difficult to cope with a diagnosis of cancer. It can be even more difficult when you have a rare cancer because you are less likely to come across other people in the same situation as you. You are likely to feel a whole range of emotions that you may find difficult to deal with, including shock, upset and anger. You may also have to deal with long term effects of your treatment. The living with cervical cancer section has lots of information you may find helpful.

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Updated: 6 September 2012