For most women, the impact of cervical cancer doesn’t end after they have finished treatment. Emotional and physical effects can continue for longer after treatment finishes and affect different areas of a woman’s life. Nearly nine in 10 women (88%) experience at least one long-term consequence of treatment, but many do not speak to their GP and get the support they need. We want to change that.
What are long-term consequences?
Many side effects that you may experience during treatment are short term. They usually get better after treatment ends.
Long-term consequences can begin during treatment, immediately after treatment, or may appear for the first time months or years after treatment. They are also known as long-term effects or late effects.
Long-term consequences may continue for many years or for the rest of a woman’s life. They may affect different areas of life, including whether someone is able to work or feels that they can be in a relationship.
Types of long-term consequences
Cervical cancer is usually treated with surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy to the lower part of the body. This means organs, such as the bowel and bladder, may be affected. You may experience physical long-term consequences, including:
- changes to your sex life
- feeling very tired (fatigue)
- problems with your bowel
- problems with your bladder
- changes to your fertility
- lymphoedema (swelling of the limbs)
- problems with your bones.
A cervical cancer diagnosis, treatment and any side effects may also cause emotional long-term consequences. These may include:
- feeling anxious
- worrying about the cancer coming back
- loss of confidence
Ways to manage long-term consequences
If you have long-term consequences, including any we do not mention here, it is important to tell your GP. They will be able to offer advice on the best treatment or support for you.
Depending on the long-term consequences you have, you may feel embarrassed or distressed about speaking with your GP. If you don’t feel comfortable, you can ask to speak with a female GP or nurse, or to bring someone you trust to the appointment. You can call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000 for more support on talking to a healthcare professional.
The following experts and services may also be helpful:
- Our online forum, where you can talk about any long-term consequences with other women.
- The Macmillan Virtual Multi-Disciplinary Team (vMDT), which aims to support people who have long-term consequences after cancer treatment. Ask your healthcare team for a referral.
- Counsellors, who can give you emotional support. You can find a counsellor in your area through the British Association for Counselling and Pyschotherapy (BACP).
- Complementary therapies, such as massage, may help ease long-term consequences like lymphoedema.
- Relate, who can support you with any issues around relationships and sex.
More information about long-term consequences
We have more information about possible long-term consequences after radiotherapy. We also have detailed information about:
- early menopause
- pelvic radiation disease (PRD), which is a term used to describe a number of long-term consequences.
You might find it helpful to watch our videos on some of these topics, including:
Other organisations who may help
- Bladder and Bowel Community – for information and support around living with bowel or bladder problems.
- Cancer Research UK (CRUK) – for information on the long-term consequences of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
- Macmillan Cancer Support – for information on the long-term consequences of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, as well as guidance around relationships and returning to work.
- Pelvic Radiation Disease Association (PRDA) – for information and support around the long-term consequences of radiotherapy.
What is Jo's doing?
We recently commissioned a report about long-term consequences after cervical cancer. It found there is not enough awareness of the impact of these effects on women’s lives, resulting in women feeling unable to speak with their GP or healthcare team about them. To combat this, we will work with healthcare professionals and women experiencing long-term consequences to make sure the right information is in place for everyone.
You can have your say on the information we produce by becoming a member of Jo’s Voices. Our Jo’s Voices are people affected by cervical cancer who comment on our information. Find out more and apply.