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Chemotherapy for cervical cancer

Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. It can be used to treat different stages of cervical cancer. 

We know that chemotherapy can have a big impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing, especially if you are dealing with short-term or long-term effects of treatment. We are here to support you, whether you want to talk through options, understand more about chemotherapy, or simply have someone listen to what’s going on.

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What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs travel around the body in the bloodstream to help stop cancer cells from growing. 

You might have chemotherapy as:

  • a single drug
  • a combination of drugs.

Who has chemotherapy for cervical cancer

Whether you can have chemotherapy depends on:

  • the stage of your cervical cancer
  • your general health. 

Read about staging and grading for cervical cancer >

How is chemotherapy used?

You usually have chemotherapy with radiotherapy when treating cervical cancer. This is sometimes called chemoradiation. Going through lots of treatments can feel very gruelling and have a big impact on your emotions and life in general.

Chemotherapy is used differently at different stages. This includes:

You may have chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiation) after surgery. This is to help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Having chemotherapy after surgery is called adjuvant treatment. 

Not everyone needs adjuvant treatment after surgery. You may only need it if:

  • the cervical cancer has spread to your lymph nodes
  • the cervical cancer was larger and more likely to spread.

You may have chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiation) if you have locally advanced cervical cancer that can’t be treated with surgery. This is called radical treatment. 

You may have chemotherapy if:

  • the cervical cancer is advanced and is causing symptoms
  • the cervical cancer has come back after other treatments. 

This is sometimes called palliative treatment. You may have the chemotherapy on its own or alongside other drug treatments, such as Avastin (bevacizumab).   

Read about Avastin >

Less commonly, you may have chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiation) before surgery. It is done as part of a clinical trial  and is called neoadjuvant treatment. The idea is that chemoradiation may help shrink the tumour and make surgery easier.  

There is a current clinical trial offering chemotherapy alone, ahead of chemoradiation. It is for cervical cancer that cannot be removed with surgery. You can ask your healthcare team if you are eligible.

Read more about the clinical trial on the Cancer Research UK website >

Making decisions about treatment

A team of healthcare professionals, called a multidisciplinary team or MDT, will discuss your test results, diagnosis and medical history to help decide which treatments are best for you.

It is important that you are involved in any decisions about your treatment. You need to know and understand all the information about the treatment, including the benefits and risks. 

You may also want to think about how having the treatment might impact on your life, including:

  • being able to have a child or more children (fertility)
  • being able to keep working (employment)
  • your finances, for any support you might need
  • other commitments or responsibilities you have. 

Read about making treatment decisions >

Chemotherapy can damage your ovaries. As it is also often given along with radiotherapy, this means you almost definitely won’t be able to get pregnant and have a child or more children after treatment.

Read more about fertility and cervical cancer > 

You will probably feel very emotional about this, which can make it hard to think about some practical steps you could take. But it is important to discuss these options with your healthcare team before you start treatment. Before treatment, you may be able to:

  • freeze and store eggs
  • freeze and store embryos – these are eggs that have been fertilised .

This may delay treatment, so you will need to consider any risks of doing that. Your healthcare team can explain how it might affect your individual situation. Unfortunately, egg and embryo freezing is not always possible and these services are not available in every hospital.

Read about fertility preservation on the Macmillan Cancer Support website >

Your immune system protects the body from infection by finding and killing germs, bacteria or viruses. Chemotherapy can affect your immune system. This means that chemotherapy may mean you have a higher risk of becoming ill with coronavirus.     

Your hospital is doing as much as possible to reduce this risk. When your healthcare team are supporting you to make treatment decisions, they will consider the risk of COVID-19 as part of this. In most hospitals we have spoken to, chemotherapy is continuing as usual for cervical cancer patients. But your healthcare team may talk to you about:    

  • delaying your treatment
  • changing how often you have treatment – so you visit the hospital less 
  • changing to oral chemotherapy  – topotecan can be given as tablets, although this is not a common drug for treating cervical cancer
  • changing to a different treatment
  • using telephone calls and video calls to avoid face-to-face appointments where possible
  • having a test to check for COVID-19 before each treatment cycle. 

Your healthcare team will probably ask you to self-isolate for about 2 weeks before and after chemotherapy. They will let you know what you should and shouldn’t do during this time. When you are having chemotherapy, you are considered extremely clinical vulnerable by government standards – this means you should follow specific guidance in your area:

Read about COVID-19 and healthcare >

More information and support about chemotherapy

Chemotherapy and its effects can have a huge impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing. You may be dealing with the effects of other treatments, such as radiotherapy, as well as continuing to process a cervical cancer diagnosis and all that can bring.

Your healthcare team, both at the hospital and at your GP surgery, are there to support you with any questions or worries you have. Remember that we are here for you too, whether you are waiting for chemotherapy, in the middle of treatment, or years past it. Our trained volunteers can listen and help you understand what’s going on via our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000

Check our Helpline opening hours > 


Sometimes connecting with others who have gone through a similar experience can be helpful. Our online Forum lets our community give and get support. You can read through the messages or post your own – whichever feels most comfortable.

Join our Forum >


Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it. 


  • British Gynaecological Cancer Society (2020). BGCS framework for care of patients with gynaecological cancer during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Web: Accessed October 2020.
  • Li, M. et al (2019). Adjuvant chemoradiotherapy versus radiotherapy in cervical cancer patients with intermediate-risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology & Reproductive Biology. 238. pp.1-6. 
  • Falcetta, FS. et al (2016). Adjuvant platinum‐based chemotherapy for early stage cervical cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 11. pp.1-3.

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

"There are always positives though, as I made two friends, who I call my chemo buddies."
Read Maria's story

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Date last updated: 
04 Nov 2020
Date due for review: 
01 Nov 2023
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