Health Team

Surgical breakthrough preserves fertility after cervical cancer

Posted May 19, 2015 6:10 p.m. EDT
Updated May 19, 2015 7:02 p.m. EDT

— For the thousands of women diagnosed each year with cervical cancer, the cost of the most common treatment – a hysterectomy – is the opportunity to have children.

But it doesn't always have to end that way. A new procedure, which removes the cancer and the cervix but leaves the uterus intact, preserves the possibility of starting or growing a family.

Women who undergo robotic trachelectomies have been beating cervical cancer and giving birth to healthy babies.

Tonya was 25 when she got her diagnosis. Marriage and kids were not even on her radar.

"I was devastated," she said. "It's one thing to hear you have cancer. That's the word that nobody wants to hear, especially at 25. But then for them to tell you you're 25, you're a woman, and you may never have children. It's kind of like mind-blowing."

After some more tests, her gynecologist referred her to Dr. John Boggess with UNC Rex, the only doctor in North Carolina who performs robotic trachelectomies. About 40 percent of cervical cancer patients are candidates for the minimally invasive surgery

"It's a real step forward for women," Boggess said.

Caldwell said when she woke from surgery and learned she would be able to have a child, she experienced a feeling of indescribable relief.

Eight years after her cancer scare, Caldwell is a mom to 16-month-old son Eli and pregnant with a little girl.

"I can't imagine a single second without him because he makes me a better person. He makes me the person I always wanted to be," she said.

Crystal Crenshaw is another success story. Her son, Jacob, was born three years after a robotic trachelectomy removed her cervical cancer.

"I was very fortunate in the sense that we had caught it early, that we could still have this done, and, because I hadn't had kids, it was important to do it this way versus the hysterectomy," she said.

Although women who opt for robotic trachelectomy are able to carry a baby, because the cervix is removed, they can't deliver naturally. Their babies arrive via caesarean section.