What to expect when a hysterectomy is recommended in treating uterine cancer
Hysterectomy is the main form of treatment for uterine (womb) cancer. It involves the surgical removal of one or more parts of the female reproductive system, including the uterus (womb), cervix, ovaries, and/or fallopian tubes, as well as any affected lymph nodes in the pelvis. The degree of treatment required depends largely on the stage and grade of the cancer. Younger women may have the option of conserving the ovaries if diagnosed and treated in the early stages. Your doctor will be able to assess the extent of the disease during surgery and determine the most appropriate course of treatment for you.
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A hysterectomy is usually performed using one of two methods:
- A laparoscopy, commonly known as key-hole surgery and is the less invasive alternative to the second method mentioned below.
- A laparotomy, which would entail a cut in the abdomen and is done when laparoscopic operation is not suitable.
As with any surgical procedure, a hysterectomy carries potential complications such as haemorrhage (bleeding) or an infection if not well-managed.
Recovering from a hysterectomy and uterine cancer
Hysterectomy is considered a major operation and a longer period of recovery is expected. It is normal to experience some pain and discomfort after surgery. Patients may benefit from healthier lifestyle choices, reduced activity and increased rest in the first one to two months to allow the abdominal muscles and tissues to heal. In cases of advanced-stage cancer that have spread beyond the womb, further treatment with chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be necessary to destroy any remaining cancer cells in the body. Radiation therapy may also be given to early-cancer patients identified as high-risk to help prevent the disease from recurring in the future.
How a hysterectomy affects women
- Most women do not experience sexual problems after a hysterectomy but there may be a reduction in libido
- You will no longer menstruate or be able to undergo pregnancy.
- Some women might experience swelling of the legs, resulting from the removal of lymph nodes post-surgery.
- If the ovaries were removed at the same time, some women may have menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats. This is due to a sudden fall in body levels of oestrogen, the female hormone responsible for developing and maintaining reproductive health. However, your doctor can recommend some medications to relieve any symptoms.
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Most symptoms will fade and improve over time, but it is important to check in regularly and inform your doctor if you notice any new symptoms after surgery to ensure that the cancer has not relapsed. Patients are generally advised to keep up with their appointments to see their doctor for follow-up.
This article has been verified medically by Dr Timothy Lim, specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Timothy Lim Clinic for Women & Cancer Surgery, Mount Alvernia Hospital (Singapore).