About chemotherapy

The aim of chemotherapy for advanced cervical cancer is to relieve symptoms. It can also control the cancer and improve your quality of life for a time. But it can’t cure the disease.

The chemotherapy drugs circulate through the body in the bloodstream. They can reach the cancer cells wherever they are.

Your doctor will talk to you in detail about the possible risks and benefits of the chemotherapy treatment. These treatments won’t help everybody. It will depend on how fit you are, and how well you can cope with any side effects.

Types of chemotherapy

Your doctor will make a plan for your treatment. How often you have treatment depends on this plan. Your doctor might change your chemotherapy depending on your side effects. Usually you have a drug called carboplatin or a combination of carboplatin and paclitaxel (Taxol).

Other chemotherapy drugs might be used but this is less common.

How you have chemotherapy

You have the drugs into your bloodstream through a drip into your arm. A nurse puts a small tube into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.

Or you might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. The tube stays in while you’re having treatment, which may be for a few months.

Where you have chemotherapy

You usually have treatment into your bloodstream at the cancer day clinic. You might sit in a chair for a few hours so it’s a good idea to take newspapers, books or electronic devices to help to pass the time. You can usually bring a friend or family member with you. 

When you have it

You usually have chemotherapy every few weeks depending on which drugs you have. The number of times you have the treatment will depend on which type of chemotherapy you are having.

Before you start chemotherapy

You need to have blood tests to make sure it’s safe to start treatment. You have these either a few days before or on the day you start treatment. You have blood tests before each round or cycle of treatment.

Your doctors and pharmacists work out your chemotherapy dose based on your blood cell levels, and your weight, height and general health.

Side effects

Common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • feeling sick
  • loss of appetite
  • losing weight
  • feeling very tired
  • a lower resistance to infections
  • bleeding and bruising easily
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • hair loss
Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have signs of infection. These include a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C, or generally feeling unwell. Infections can make you very unwell very quickly.

Side effects depend on:

  • which drugs you have
  • how much of each drug you have
  • how you react

Tell your treatment team about any side effects that you have.

Chemotherapy for cervical cancer can be difficult to cope with. Tell your doctor or nurse about any problems or side effects that you have. The nurse will give you telephone numbers to call if you have any problems at home.

Last reviewed: 
24 Apr 2020
Next review due: 
23 Apr 2023
  • Cervical cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up

    N. Colombo and others

    Annals of Oncology (2012) 23 (supplement 7): vii27-vii32


    Improving supportive and palliative care for adults with cancer 
    National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), 2004


    Cervical cancer

    British Medical Journal (BMJ) Best Practice Online. September 2016

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