Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Friday, 12 September 2008 12:56 UK

'The effects stay with you forever'

By Emma Wilkinson
Health reporter, BBC News

Jade Goody
Jade Goody underwent tests after collapsing at home.

Reality TV star Jade Goody is set to undergo a hysterectomy after being diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Around 2,700 women are told they have cervical cancer every year in the UK and it is the second most common cancer in women under 35.

Dr Sean Kehoe, a consultant gynacological oncologist in Oxford, explains the operation is one of the "gold-standard" options for cervical cancer.

But when it comes to cancer, a hysterectomy is not as straightforward as it can be when done for other conditions.

"With a simple hysterectomy the cervix and the womb are removed and it could take less than an hour," Kehoe explains.

You can get complications you don't get with simple hysterectomies so recovery is a minimum of six weeks but can be up to three months
Dr Sean Kehoe

"But for cancer we do a radical hysterectomy where we remove the womb, cervix, some of the vagina and the lymph nodes in the pelvis to make sure the disease hasn't spread."

This more major surgery is more likely to take two to three hours or even much longer if there are complications.

"You might find the disease has spread to other areas that you hadn't anticipated or you might get technical difficulties for example if the woman has endometriosis," he says.

Recovery

Mellissa Crowley from Tunbridge Wells in Kent knows only too well the realities of such surgery.

Seven years ago at the age of 22 she was diagnosed with the condition after falling ill on a flight to the US.

She underwent an immediate hysterectomy and although the operation was a success she was in an immense amount of pain afterwards.

"My operation was about five or six hours long and I was in hospital for five days.

"I was in agony for a couple of weeks and housebound."

Fortunately, she didn't need any further treatment, such as chemotherapy, as tests on the lymph nodes showed the cancer had not spread.

Mellissa is now cancer-free but will have to have regular smear tests and scans for the rest of her life to ensure the cancer has not come back.

It is very treatable but the effects are with you forever and the worry never does away
Mellissa Crowley, cancer survivor

As with any surgery, there are risks of bleeding and infection but there are other rarer side-effects which patients need to be prepared for.

For example, taking out the lymph glands can cause lymphoedema - a swelling caused by the build up of fluid

"You can get complications you don't get with simple hysterectomies so recovery is a minimum of six weeks but can be up to three months," says Dr Kehoe, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Fertility

In the longer term the woman will no longer have periods or be able to have children but because surgeons usually leave the ovaries behind she is unlikely to suffer premature menopause or require any hormone therapy.

Mellissa cannot have children naturally but is considering fertility treatment to enable her to have a baby through a surrogate.

One point that Dr Kehoe is keen to stress is that better treatment as well as the cervical screening programme has dramatically reduced deaths from cervical cancer in recent years.

"It's a very treatable form of cancer and quite a good success story.

"Part of the benefit is having specialists trained specifically in treating women's cancers."

Mellissa adds: "It is very treatable but the effects are with you forever and the worry never does away."




SEE ALSO
Goody to undergo cancer operation
12 Sep 08 |  Entertainment
Smear test call for young women
08 Jan 08 |  Health

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