1. Give yourself the best odds after treatment for cervical cancer or precancerous conditions.

If you smoke, look seriously for opportunities or resources to quit. Smoking exposes your body to cancer-causing chemicals that promote the growth of cervical cancer. The chemicals produced by tobacco smoke may damage the DNA in cells of the cervix and make cancer more likely to occur there. Also avoid drinking excessive alcohol and follow the dietary recommendations of your cancer care team. Assuming there's no reason for you to avoid these foods, eat plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, red, orange or yellow vegetables and whole grains. This will help you heal faster and give you a better chance of recovering completely. Exercise as soon as your condition permits. Know your recommended medical follow-ups and keep up with them.

2. Face your fertility issues.

If you're concerned about your ability to have children, make this clear to your cancer care team. Ask how the medical and surgical procedures necessary for your care will affect your fertility. If you have early cervical cancer, it may be possible for you to be treated with a cone biopsy, a surgical procedure that allows some women to remain fertile. If your fertility can't be spared, you're entitled to your feelings and consideration from others. A good counselor or support group may help. You can also consider looking into emerging reproductive technologies, such as ovarian tissue banking.

3. Reclaim your sex life.

During this stressful time, it is normal for you to be less interested in sex than before. Counseling can help you and your partner adjust and stay physically intimate in other ways as you return to intercourse at your own pace. If you are experiencing vaginal dryness, hormone creams and lubricating gels can help. To keep your vagina elastic and flexible after radiotherapy, use a vaginal dilator and talk to your partner about having regular sex. This won't make the cancer worse or hurt your partner. Make sure that penetrative sex is very gentle at first.

4. If you're going to have a hysterectomy ...

Ask your surgeon whether your ovaries will also be removed and research this decision carefully. Also ask whether you'll be having abdominal surgery or surgery through the vagina, since the procedures have different recovery rates. Also arrange for help at home; you'll be glad later, even if you don't need it for long. Freeze your favorite meals ahead of time, and prepare the room in which you'll be resting after surgery with reading materials and pictures or posters on the wall. Also have a supply of sanitary pads for post-operative drainage and large-size, comfortable panties.

5. After your hysterectomy ...

Cooperate when you're asked to get up and walk after surgery. You'll recover faster and won't have as many problems with gas. Once you're home, don't lift heavy objects or walk up stairs too soon after surgery. If you've had an abdominal incision, edema (swelling) may make your abdomen look like it sags; with time, this will subside. Stick to a healthy, nutritious diet, not a weight-loss diet, while recovering from surgery. After your surgeon has cleared you for normal activity, exercise to tighten your muscles, build up strength and endurance, and improve sleep.

Last medical review: 6/06

Last date updated: 1/07

Copyright 2007 National Women's Health Resource Center Inc. (NWHRC)