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Having chemotherapy for cervical cancer

Having chemotherapy for cervical cancer involves the treatment being planned, deciding which drugs are most suitable, and the treatment being given.

We know that you may feel nervous about having chemotherapy or worried about any effects of the 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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Planning chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is given in cycles. A cycle is when you have the chemotherapy drugs and then have a rest to let your body recover.

The cervical cancer stage and chemotherapy drugs you have will decide:

  • how often you have chemotherapy
  • how many cycles of chemotherapy you have.

This information is only for guidance. It is important to speak to your healthcare team for information about your specific chemotherapy cycle and drugs.

If you are having chemoradiation, you will usually have chemotherapy once a week for 5 weeks. This happens at the same time as you have radiotherapy. Your treatment shouldn’t last more than 8 weeks.   

Read about chemoradiation > 

If you are having chemotherapy for cervical cancer that has spread outside of the pelvis, you may have it over about 4 to 6 months. It can continue this long if it is working well and you are not having difficult side effects.

If the cancer has not spread outside of the pelvis, you will probably have a drug called cisplatin. Sometimes you may have other drugs, including:

  • carboplatin
  • paclitaxel (Taxol)
  • paclitaxel and carboplatin.

If the cancer has spread outside of the pelvis or come back after treatment, you will probably have a combination of chemotherapy drugs:  

  • paclitaxel and cisplatin 
  • cisplatin and topotecan
  • paclitaxel and carboplatin
  • paclitaxel and topotecan.

If you have cancer that has spread outside of your pelvis, you may have chemotherapy alongside another drug called Avastin (bevacizumab). 

Read about Avastin > 

You can search for different chemotherapy drugs on the Macmillan Cancer Support website. It includes information about how the drugs are given and specific side effects they cause.

Visit the Macmillan Cancer Support website >

Before chemotherapy

You usually have chemotherapy as an outpatient. This means you don’t have to stay in hospital overnight. 

Chemotherapy can take a few hours. You usually have to sit still in chair, so it can help to bring some things with you to hospital to keep you entertained. We spoke with our community, who suggested you could bring: 

  • books, electronic devices, magazines, knitting or other things to keep you busy
  • crystalised ginger, ginger tea, or liquorice tea, which may help if you feel sick
  • anti-diarrhoea medication
  • aqueous cream to help with a sore bottom caused by diarrhoea.

Read our blog for more tips before treatment > 

Tests before chemotherapy

A few days before chemotherapy, you will have blood tests. These check that you have enough blood cells start treatment. In some hospitals, you may have a test to check that you do not have COVID-19. 

You will normally need these tests each time you start a cycle of chemotherapy treatment.

During chemotherapy

On the day of chemotherapy, you will have:

  • some drugs to stop you feeling sick
  • extra fluids and drugs to stop any damage to your kidneys.  

Your nurse will usually check how much wee you are producing – for example by showing them a jug of urine at regular intervals.

You will usually have the chemotherapy drugs through a drip into your arm. This is called intravenous chemotherapy. You might feel a small sting and some discomfort as your nurse puts the needle and a thin tube (cannula) into your vein. They will take the needle out and the chemotherapy drugs travel from a drip bag into your bloodstream. 

You may feel a slight burning feeling as the drug travels into your vein, but it doesn’t usually last for a long time. Your nurse will try and make you as comfortable as possible.

Sometimes you may have treatment through a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. 

Read about central lines on the Cancer Research UK website >

After chemotherapy

After chemotherapy, you can go home if you are feeling well. Before you go, your nurse will:

  • tell you about drinking extra water after treatment  
  • give you any medications to help you manage side effects 
  • give you the number to contact in case you start feeling unwell. 

Recovering from chemotherapy

It can take a long time to recover and feel like yourself again after chemotherapy. The exact time will depend on:

  • how many cycles you have had 
  • how long you have had chemotherapy for
  • the side effects you have
  • your general health. 

Generally, it takes a few months to recover from chemotherapy. But you may have long-term effects that can last for many years or, in some cases, for the rest of your life. 

You will need to rest to help your recovery. Try to limit your normal activities until you start feeling better, as these can take a lot of energy. Remember to be kind and gentle to yourself – recovery takes time and you may also be recovering from surgery or radiotherapy too. 

If you are struggling with your emotions before, during or after chemotherapy, you are not alone. We know that lots of women and people who have had a cervical cancer diagnosis or treatment feel sad, down or depressed. Sometimes this can last a long time after treatment has finished.  

Read about mental health and cervical cancer >

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 > 

If you have general questions about chemotherapy, our panel of medical experts may be able to help. They can’t give you answers about your individual situation or health – it’s best to speak with your GP or healthcare team for that.

Use our Ask the Expert service >

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.

References

  • British Gynaecological Cancer Society. British Gynaecological Cancer Society (BGCS) Cervical Cancer Guidelines: Recommendations for Practice. Web: www.bgcs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/FINAL-Cx-Ca-Version-for-submission.pdf. Accessed October 2020.
  • Marth C, et al. (2017). Cervical cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 28;s4. pp.iv72-iv83.
  • Falcetta, FS. et al (2016). Adjuvant platinum‐based chemotherapy for early stage cervical cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 11.
  • Ghadjar, P. et al (2015). Modern radiation therapy and potential fertility preservation strategies in patients with cervical cancer undergoing chemoradiation. Radiation Oncology. 10;50.

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 >

Chemotherapy side effects >

Read about side effects you may have and how to manage them.

"The tiredness and ‘brain fog’ hit me like a ton of bricks."
Read Stephanie's story
Date last updated: 
04 Nov 2020
Date due for review: 
01 Nov 2023
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