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The term ‘hysterectomy’ refers to the surgical removal of the uterus (womb).
A hysterectomy can be either simple, often called a total hysterectomy, or radical, sometimes called a Wertheim (done with an abdominal operation) or Schauta (done with a vaginal operation) hysterectomy. In both cases the whole of the cervix and uterus, and sometimes part of the fallopian tubes, are removed. But in a radical hysterectomy the tissue at the side of the uterus (the parametrium) and the top part of the vagina are also removed. Whether a simple or radical hysterectomy is recommended will depend on several factors, including the stage and type of tumour.
If a woman has already gone through the menopause then the ovaries are usually removed as well. However, in younger pre-menopausal women the ovaries will ideally be left as removing them brings on an early menopause.
This surgery can often be carried out laparoscopically (using key hole surgery) or with robotic assistance, both of which cause less blood loss, speed up the recovery time and need less pain relief.
It may also involve removing some of the lymph nodes (part of the body’s fluid drainage system) located in the pelvis if they have been affected. This is called a lymph node dissection or lymphadenectomy.
Some women may experience complications after surgery and your specialist nurse or consultant will explain these complications to you.
Very rarely women may have bladder or bowel problems after a hysterectomy because of direct damage to these organs during the surgery. This is more common after a radical operation rather than a simple hysterectomy, but is still very rare. However, women may suffer damage to the nerves that control bladder and bowel, which can cause problem with these organs.
If you develop any symptoms after your surgery, you must inform your specialist nurse or consultant as it is often possible to treat or manage them.
You may also find that after surgery, your sex life is affected. This may be as a result of the physical effects of surgery or emotional aspects of dealing with a diagnosis of cancer. For more information on sex and intimacy changes after cervical cancer, please visit out sex and intimacy information pages.
If you have had your ovaries removed during the hysterectomy, and you have not already been through the menopause you will experience early menopause, which produces its own symptoms. This can be distressing. Do discuss this with either your specialist nurse or consultant as they can suggest options that may help you manage the symptoms, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). For more information on early menopause and HRT, please visit our information pages.
Jessica talks about her radical hysterectomy and the after effects:
‘The radical hysterectomy was the first point of treatment that I had in December’