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Finished treatment: what now?

Posted on: Wednesday, 26th April 2023 by Katie Boyd Campbell, Helpline Advisor

What are the emotional impacts of finishing treatment?

We often hear from our community that they feel a mixture of different emotions after they finish treatment for cervical cancer, and one of these is loneliness. This can come as a surprise to many but feeling this way is normal.


'Finished my treatment last week. I just feel weird. Kind of, alone, in limbo?'
- Jo's Forum user


You may expect to feel elated after completing many weeks and months of hospital visits and treatments. However, we hear from many women and people with a cervix, that they feel isolated and anxious as they wonder if treatment has been successful. If you feel this way, you are not alone.

What happens once my treatment is finished?

During chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cervical cancer, you have the support of healthcare professionals almost on a daily basis. After treatment is completed, you often have a period of time, sometimes up to a few months, without this contact while you wait for follow up scans and appointments.

It’s natural to feel anxious about the cancer coming back.

You can find tips for coping with anxiety here >

Finding out from the hospital team what you should be looking out for and who to contact if you’re concerned can help alleviate some of your concerns. At first, it may be that every new ache or pain triggers worry for you but, over time, this will settle.

Will I still experience side effects after I finish treatment?

After radiotherapy, the side effects peak approximately two weeks after treatment has completed, and often symptoms get worse before they get better.  It may take a couple of weeks to several months for them to subside. Common side effects that you may experience include tiredness, sore skin, changes to your bowel and bladder, lymphoedema and sex and fertility issues.

You may have chemotherapy alongside your radiotherapy. This is called chemoradiation. The chemotherapy drugs can make the cancer cells more sensitive to radiotherapy. There are several different drugs that can be used to treat cervical cancer and any side effects you may experience will depend on the chemotherapy drugs you are given. Many side effects stop or slowly go away after chemotherapy finishes. Some side effects can be unpleasant, but people feel that the benefits of chemotherapy usually outweigh this.

Sometimes the effects of treatment can last for a long time or for the rest of your life. This is especially true of treatment like pelvic radiotherapy. Longterm or lifelong side effects might be difficult to cope with or even fully understand straight after treatment, but you can get support. Your GP or healthcare team need to know about any continued effects, even years after treatment has finished.

Find out more about recovery after treatment for cervical cancer >

How can I manage the effects of treatment?

Recovery after treatment for cervical cancer is not always easy. Everyone will recover from treatment at a different pace. The time it takes you to recover will depend on different things, including, the treatment you had, how your body reacted to the treatment and your general health.

It can help to know what to expect during recovery and your health care team should provide you with advice. Here are some tips which you may find helpful:

  • Stop smoking – this can help reduce the side effects of treatment and it may also make the treatment work better.
  • Tiredness – asking others for help with tasks and doing some gentle exercises like walking and yoga may be beneficial.
  • Skin care – if you experience sore skin following treatment you can have showers as opposed to baths and keep the water lukewarm. Avoid tight fitting clothes and do not wax or shave the area in the treatment field until your skin is completely healed.
  • Try to eat a balanced, healthy diet – drink plenty of fluid to avoid irritation of the bladder. Medication can be taken if you experience diarrhoea.
  • Effects on the vagina – lubricants, moisturisers and dilators are some of the aids that doctors, radiographers or nurses can give you to cope with some of the vaginal changes.
  • Emotional impacts of finishing cancer treatment – you may find talking to others about your experience can help. Spending time doing things you enjoy and taking some time out for relaxation can all be beneficial.

Adjusting to life after cancer treatment is different for everyone and you may find that it takes time to recover physically and emotionally. Your family and friends might think things will go back to normal quickly, so you may need to explain that even if you’re looking well on the outside, you’ve still got a lot going on. Finding your ‘new normal’ can take time.

Where can I find support?

As well as talking to your friends and family, it can help to speak to a counsellor, your hospital team or a cancer support service about the emotions and physical symptoms you may be experiencing. 

Our Helpline and Forum are great for sharing your experiences and talking to others. If you do feel isolated, knowing you’re not the only person who is affected can help.