Treatments and side effects: Pelvic exenteration
Pelvic exenteration is not a common treatment. It is a term doctors usually use for surgery for a recurrence of cervical cancer in the pelvis. Usually this major operation is done to try to cure the cancer. It means taking out all or some of the structures in the pelvis. In other words, the womb, cervix, ovaries, some of the vagina, bladder and urethra, and very occasionally the rectum and anus. There are three types of 'exenteration' operation that can be done: anterior exenteration (where the bladder and womb are removed), posterior exenteration (where the lower bowel the rectum and the womb are removed), and total exenteration (where the lower bowel, the rectum, the womb and the bladder are removed).
We interviewed one young woman who had had a total pelvic exenteration after her cancer returned. She described how she felt before the operation and during the difficult first six weeks of her recovery.
After pelvic exenteration, women need to have bags to collect their urine and their bowel movements because the bladder and/or rectum have been removed. These are called urostomy and colostomy bags (see Cancerhelp for more information). This woman said that, at first she was scared to do things like swimming or taking exercise which had been normal for her to do before, over time she had become used to using the bags and now felt confident to continue with her life as she did before.
She explained how she built up her strength and her confidence to return to work and that her colleagues had been very supportive.
One year after her operation, she felt that with a bit of extra planning, she was living a normal life again.
Last reviewed November 2011.
Last updated November 2011.