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Cervical Cancer Surgery Can Protect Fertility

CancerWise - January 2008


By Dawn Dorsey

Neddy Franco and fiance Doug Ramirez

Neddy Franco and her fiancé were full of hopes and dreams about the babies they would have after they married. But the day she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, she was told she needed a radical hysterectomy, which would make her unable to conceive a third time

The 34-year-old soon learned, however, that a small but growing number of surgeons offer a new solution called radical trachelectomy, which leaves the uterus (womb) intact.

The procedure greatly increases the likelihood that a woman will be able to get pregnant and give birth.

Pap tests confounded physicians

A mother of two children from a previous marriage, Franco began treatment after nearly a year of inconsistent test results that led up to her diagnosis.

In July 2006, results of her annual Pap test (cervical cancer screening) came back abnormal. A subsequent transvaginal ultrasound was normal, but another Pap was abnormal. That was followed by a normal biopsy and another abnormal Pap. Her doctor did cryosurgery, a procedure to freeze the abnormal cells.

During her next Pap, Franco felt so much pain that she almost "went through the roof."

"The doctor had a really worried look on her face, but she said to take some Tylenol®, and she would give me the results on the phone in a few days," Franco says.

Unexpected diagnosis is made

Instead, the nurse called a few days later and said the doctor wanted her to come into the office to discuss the test results. Franco was busy at work and didn't think too much about it. But when she arrived at the doctor's office during her lunch break, she began to think things were a little strange.

"I had gotten to be friendly with the women in the office over the past months, but that day they didn't want to talk," she says. "They just put me in a room and closed the door."

When the doctor informed her she had squamous cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of cervical cancer, Franco had a hard time processing what she was hearing.

"I remember thinking, 'Is she talking to me?'" Franco says. "It was like an out-of-body experience, and I just couldn't focus or think clearly."

Events begin to move quickly

Franco's gynecologist referred her to an oncologist, who said she would have to have a hysterectomy. When Franco mentioned she hoped to have more children, the doctor told her about Pedro Ramirez, M.D., an associate professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology, who specializes in radical trachelectomy.

"She said I would have to act fast because the cancer was spreading quickly," Franco says.

By early August 2007, Franco had seen Ramirez, found out she was a candidate for the procedure and scheduled surgery.

Resolve makes the difference

With her surgery a success and her body on the mend, Franco looks forward to marrying next spring.

"We're really looking forward to having a family together," she says. "Dr. Ramirez says I can probably start trying to get pregnant in about six months."

Throughout her ordeal, Franco has maintained an optimistic attitude. She says she has really felt no depression, which she attributes to her strong faith.

"I was determined that cancer would not invade my mind and body," she says.

She spreads cheer, hope

Every time Franco visits M. D. Anderson, she takes along a stack of her favorite inspirational books, which she offers to people in waiting rooms. Recently, as she waited for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screening, she shared a book with an older man.

"I asked him why he was there, and he said he had prostate cancer," Franco says. "I told him, 'Cancer does not discriminate. You have to keep smiling and keep the faith.'"

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center