Chemotherapy for cervical cancer
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or slow their growth while causing the least possible damage to healthy cells. Chemotherapy may be given:
- in combination with radiation therapy as the main treatment for cervical cancer (chemoradiation)
- on its own or combined with targeted therapy if the cancer has already spread beyond the pelvis at the time of diagnosis or comes back after treatment.
The drugs are usually given through a vein (intravenously) and during day visits to a hospital or clinic as an outpatient. The number of chemotherapy sessions you have depends on the type of cervical cancer and any other treatments you may be having. If you have chemotherapy without radiation therapy, you are likely to have up to six sessions, every 3–4 weeks, though it may continue for longer.
The side effects of chemotherapy vary according to the drugs given, how often you have treatment, your general health and fitness, and whether you have chemotherapy or chemoradiation. You may have nausea or vomiting, feel tired, or lose some hair from your body or head. Chemotherapy can also cause temporary or permanent menopause.
Chemotherapy may reduce the number of blood cells in your body. Depending on the type of blood cells affected, you may feel very tired and be more likely to get infections. If your temperature rises to 38°C or above, go to the nearest hospital emergency department immediately. You will have regular blood tests during treatment to monitor the levels of blood cells.
Most side effects of chemotherapy are temporary, and your treatment team can help you to prevent or reduce them.
Video: What is chemotherapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about chemotherapy, its role, how you get it, and possible side effects.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Dr Pearly Khaw, Lead Radiation Oncologist, Gynae-Tumour Stream, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Deborah Neesham, Gynaecological Oncologist, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Frances Perry House, VIC; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, VIC; Dr Alison Davis, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Krystle Drewitt, Consumer; Shannon Philp, Nurse Practitioner, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and The University of Sydney Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, NSW; Dr Robyn Sayer, Gynaecological Oncologist Cancer Surgeon, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Megan Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Cancer Council NSW; Melissa Whalen, Consumer.
We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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