Chemotherapy for cervical cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs circulate throughout the body in the bloodstream.

Chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy) is one of the main treatments for cervical cancer. You might also have chemotherapy for advanced cervical cancer. Cisplatin is one of the drugs commonly used.

When you have it

Chemotherapy before having chemoradiotherapy

Before having chemoradiotherapy, you might have weekly chemotherapy with carboplatin and paclitaxel over 6 weeks.

With radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy)

You may have chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy) if you have stage 1B2 to stage 4A cervical cancer.

You might have chemoradiotherapy after surgery or as your main treatment.

With an immunotherapy and targeted cancer drug

You might have chemotherapy with the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab. You have them with or without the targeted cancer drug bevacizumab. It is a treatment for persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer.

On its own before surgery

Having chemotherapy on its own before surgery is not a standard treatment, but you may have it as part of a clinical trial.

On its own after surgery

You might have chemotherapy on its own after surgery as part of a clinical trial.

Advanced cancer

You might have chemotherapy with bevacizumab for stage 4B cervical cancer.

Types of chemotherapy

Cisplatin is the most common drug for early or locally advanced cervical cancer. Other drugs that might be used include:

  • carboplatin
  • cisplatin and paclitaxel (Taxol)
  • carboplatin and paclitaxel

Check the name of the chemotherapy treatment with your doctor or nurse, then find out about it on our A to Z list of cancer drugs.

How you have chemotherapy

You usually have the chemotherapy as a drip into your vein (intravenously). 

Into your bloodstream

You have treatment through a thin short tube (a cannula) that goes into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment.

Or you might have treatment through a long line: a central line, a PICC line or a portacath. These are long plastic tubes that give the drug into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment.

Treatment cycles

You take some cancer medicines in treatment cycles. This means you take the drug for a set period, followed by a break. For example, you might take a drug every day for a week and then not take it for 2 weeks. This 3 week period in total is one cycle of treatment.

Take your cancer drugs exactly as your doctor, specialist nurse or pharmacist has told you to. The break from treatment is important too. For many cancer drugs, it allows your body to recover.

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 things in to do. For example, newspapers, books or electronic devices can all help to pass the time. You can usually bring a friend or family member with you.

You have some types of chemotherapy over several days. You might be able to have some drugs through a small portable pump that you take home.

For some types of chemotherapy you have to stay in a hospital ward. This could be overnight or for a couple of days.

Some hospitals may give certain chemotherapy treatments to you at home. Your doctor or nurse can tell you more about this.

Before you start chemotherapy

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

Side effects

Common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • feeling sick
  • loss of appetite
  • losing weight
  • feeling very tired
  • increased risk of getting an infection
  • 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.

Dietary or herbal supplements and chemotherapy

Let your doctors know if you:

  • take any supplements
  • have been prescribed anything by alternative or complementary therapy practitioners

It’s unclear how some nutritional or herbal supplements might interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful.

When you go home

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.

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