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Recovering from treatment

Recovery after treatment for cervical cancer is not always easy. It can help to know what to except during recovery and tips for making it easier to cope.

We hope the information on this page helps, but know you might need some extra support. We are here to give you that – whether it’s through a phone call, email or connecting with others.

Get support > 

On this page:

How long will it take to recover?

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
  • your general health.

We have more information about recovery times on the specific treatment type pages.

Find your treatment > 

Sometimes it is tempting to compare yourself to others, but it is important not to do this during your recovery. As long as your healthcare team are happy that your body is healing, you do not need to worry if someone else is recovering faster or slower than you. 

In the hospital

You may have to stay in hospital overnight or for a few days after treatment. You will begin your recovery there.

After surgery, moving around can help you recover quicker. You may not feel like it, but you will have support from the nurses on the ward as well as your healthcare team. 

Walking might be difficult after surgery. This may be because you:

  • feel very tired after a general anaesthetic 
  • have weakness in the area where you had surgery – it can affect your core strength and movement
  • are in pain or discomfort because of the surgery.

As a first step, the nurses will help you to get out of bed and sit on a chair. They will encourage you to slowly become more active – for example, by taking a short walk around the ward or down a corridor.  

Preventing blood clots

Blood clots are known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). They are clumps of blood that can block the blood flow in a vein or artery. You are at risk of developing them after surgery because you have to stay in bed longer than usual to recover. Blood clots can be very serious and in some cases life-threatening, so it is important to listen to your healthcare team about how to prevent them.

A physiotherapist might visit you on the ward. They will show you exercises to help prevent blood clots in your legs, such as leg and breathing exercises. You may also have to:

  • wear compression stockings 
  • have blood thinning injections.

If you need injections, your nurse will teach you how to give yourself these at home. Or a district nurse may be able to visit you at home. 

Blood clots may sound scary, but it is important to be aware of the risk so you understand why your healthcare team want to prevent them. Remember, they are there if you have any questions and can give specific advice about what you should be doing.

Read about blood clots on the NHS website >

Pain after treatment can be difficult to manage, but your healthcare team are there to support you. It is important to tell them about any pain you have, so they can help. 

Your pain level may vary depending on:

  • the treatment you had
  • the pain medication you were given
  • how well your body handles pain.

After surgery, you can expect some pain in your stomach and the area where the surgery was done. This will be because of the wound as well as other aspects of the surgery, such as having gas pumped into your stomach during keyhole surgery.  

A physiotherapist may be able to show you exercises to help with pain. Here are some other tips for managing pain:

  • Take the pain medication that is offered or suggested. You should be given medication in the hospital, as well as some to take home. Let your healthcare team know if it isn’t helping.
  • Listen to your body. You may be feeling frustrated that you can’t just get up and go, but if movement causes more pain, it is important to take it slowly.
  • Use heat packs on and around the area that is painful. 
  • Sip on peppermint tea may also help ease the pain and comfort yourself.  

You need have a catheter put into your bladder after surgery, to help drain your wee while your wound deals. 

The catheter is usually removed 5 to 10 days after surgery. Before they remove it, your healthcare team will check that your bladder is working properly, using by doing a scan and asking you to wee. The catheter should be removed quickly, but it can be uncomfortable when this happens. If you need it, ask for some pain medication to help with any discomfort. 

In some cases, you might need to:

  • go home with a catheter in 
  • learn how to put a catheter in yourself (intermittent self-catheterisation). 

A district nurse can visit you at home to help you care for your catheter. 

Read about catheters on the NHS website >

After treatment, you may feel very emotional. You might find yourself cycling through a range of different feelings – from relief that the treatment has been done, anger that you had to have it, anxiety about what comes next, and grief about how your life may have changed. Or you may feel nothing.  

Processing all of this can be exhausting, especially if you have had to stay in the hospital in an unfamiliar environment. Don’t feel under pressure to feel a certain way or feel ‘better’ by a certain time. An important part of your recovery will be working through these emotions and figuring out what this experience has meant for you as a person. 

In hospital, the nurses on the ward and your healthcare team will be there to support you. You don’t only have to use them for medical needs – they can help with your emotional needs too. At the moment, you probably won’t be able to have visitors in the hospital because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know this can be tough, but you may be able to keep in touch by phone or video call. You may also have things with you that remind you of home or family, such as photos, cards or letters.

If you have had radiotherapy or chemoradiation, you may have become used to visiting the hospital regularly for treatment. While it may be a relief that treatment is now over, you may also feel anxious about not seeing your healthcare team so regularly, or losing a sense of community with the staff or other patients you bonded with. Remember that your healthcare team are just a phone call away and other support, like our services, are here for you too.

Read about cervical cancer and mental health > 

At home 

Before you leave the hospital, make sure you have a contact number for your clinical nurse specialist (CNS). They will be your main point of contact if you have any questions or need emotional support. 

Once you are home, you may feel differently about recovery and your experience so far. You might feel relieved to be back in your own space, or worried that recovery will be more difficult without your healthcare team around you. Try to remember that support is still available.

Getting practical help

While you are recovering at home, you will usually need to avoid any heavy activity. This could include housework, carrying shopping or doing any other lifting. After surgery, you also may not be able to drive for 2 or more weeks. 

You may also simply feel exhausted after the treatment. This is sometimes called fatigue and is common after radiotherapy and chemotherapy. 

Although it might feel frustrating, it can help to build up your activity levels gradually. You could start by moving more around your house and eventually going on short walks. After surgery, avoid swimming for 2 weeks and vigorous exercise for 4 to 6 weeks. This will give your body time to heal – even if a wound looks better from the outside, it may take more time for the muscles and other areas to heal internally. 

You may have already arranged for other people to support you during this time, perhaps by doing your weekly shop or helping with childcare. If you haven’t, think about who could you reach out to and what would be most helpful for you. You can also ask your GP about any local services that might be able to help.

Self-isolating 

Your healthcare team may ask you to self-isolate for a couple of weeks after treatment. This may be because:

  • your immune system is weaker after treatment – especially chemotherapy
  • of COVID-19 restrictions in your area.

A cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment will already have had an impact on your mental health, so this period of isolation can be difficult. We spoke with our community, who say it can help to surround yourself with positive things while you recover. This will be different for everyone. It might be your friends and family (even if it’s virtually), your favourite books, a TV show or a hobby. You could also think about little ways to treat yourself during this time.

Read tips for self-isolating from people who have done it before >

Wound care   

If you had surgery, you will need to care for your wound. The type of wound you have will depend on the surgery you’ve had.

Before you leave hospital, the nurses will check the wound or wounds. Your wound will have a dressing on it to keep it clean and dry. Any stitches may be:

  • removed by a healthcare professional while you are still in hospital 
  • removed by a practise nurse at your GP surgery once you are at home 
  • dissolvable – this means you won’t need anyone to take them out.

If you had keyhole surgery, your cuts may be closed with glue, which is also dissolvable.

At home, you may need to check the wound to make sure it is healing properly. You should contact your GP or healthcare team at the hospital if the edges of the wound come apart or you have signs of an infection, including:

  • the wound area feeling hot
  • fluid coming out of the wound
  • having a high temperature (fever)
  • the wound area looking red and swollen.   

The outside of your wound may heal quite quickly. But some of our community have told us that they still had pain or discomfort in the area for a while after, as the muscles and nerves healed. 

If you had radiotherapy or chemotherapy after surgery, your wound may take longer to heal. This is because radiotherapy, and some chemotherapy drugs, can damage the cells that need to renew in order to close and heal the wound. We need more research to understand the impact of wound healing after these treatments. 

You may find that the skin around the wound is numb for a few months until any nerves damaged by treatment recover. All of these things should gradually get better, but it is important to speak to your GP or healthcare team if you are concerned.

While you are recovering, it might help to wear comfy clothes and pyjamas. You may prefer to wear high-waisted underwear or trousers, as they sit over the dressing and help prevent any rubbing.

Skin care

Over 8 in 10 (85%) patients experience some type of skin reaction after radiotherapy, including dry or broken skin. The skin that is treated will usually also become red and sore – it is sometimes described as being like sun burn. 

This means that, after radiotherapy or chemoradiation, you will need to take more care of your skin where you had treatment. The best way to care take of your skin is to keep it moist. Ask your healthcare team which moisturisers would be suitable for you – they can recommend those without certain added chemicals or ingredients. 

You may also find it helpful to wear loose-fitting, cotton underwear and trousers, so the material doesn’t irritate the skin. 

Washing and showering

If you had surgery, your healthcare team will tell you how and when to keep your wound clean. You should be able to have a shower or bath and remove any dressings the day after your surgery.  Don’t worry about getting your scars wet, just make sure that you pat them dry with clean disposable tissues or let them dry in the air. Keeping scars clean and dry helps healing.

Depending on the type of surgery you had, you may need help getting in and out of the shower or bath. This won’t be forever – just while the wound heals and movement is more difficult. While you are in hospital, the nurses will be able to support you. Once you are home, someone you live with may be able to help, or you can ask about a local carer offering support. 

If you had radiotherapy or surgery, it is best to avoid scented shower gels, soaps and creams. These can irritate sensitive skin and the wound. Make sure you rinse any soap off your skin or wound and gently pat the area dry.   

Sex after treatment

Your healthcare team will normally advise you not to have penetrative sex or put anything inside your vagina for about 6 weeks after surgery. They will usually advise the same for radiotherapy, although it might be between 3 to 6 weeks.  

After treatment, we know that many of our community had changes to their sex life. This can be because of:

  • the physical impact of treatment
  • how you feel about yourself, your body or sex.

It may take some time, but this can get better. Remember, even once you are at home you can contact your healthcare team – see if they are able to refer you to a psychosexual therapist at the hospital, who is an expert in problems with sex. 

We have detailed information about sex after cervical cancer that you may find helpful, including ways to manage any changes and suggestions for getting support. 

Read about sex after cervical cancer >

Managing the effects of treatment

You can expect some effects after any kind of treatment. We’ve talked through some of them on this page, but you can read more on the specific page for the type of treatment you had. 

Find your treatment >

Sometimes the effects of treatment last for a long time or for the rest of your life. This is especially true of treatment like pelvic radiotherapy. That might be really difficult to cope with or even fully understand straight after treatment, but if you do find yourself struggling as time goes on, you can still get support. Your GP or healthcare team need to know about any continued or existing effects, even years after treatment has finished.

Read about pelvic radiation disease >

More information and support about recovery

A cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment can have a big impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing. Recovering from treatment can take a long time, so it’s important to get the support you need. Remember that you can still rely on your healthcare team after treatment – they haven’t disappeared. 

We are here for you too. Our trained volunteers can listen, talk through what’s going on and offer suggestions for recovery via our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000

Check our Helpline opening hours >

Our 1:1 service offers a private way to get support over email, phone call or video call. We can talk through your personal situation, as well as helping you process your feelings and think about next steps. We also welcome partners and family members to use our 1:1 service, so if you are a loved one reading this or think yours would benefit from some extra support, get in touch. 

Access our 1:1 service >

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 treatment or recovery, 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 (2020). 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.
  • Cibula, D. et al (2018). The European Society of Gynaecological Oncology/European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology/European Society of Pathology guidelines for the management of patients with cervical cancer. Radiotherapy Oncology. 127;3. pp.404-416.
  • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2015). Recovering well after a vaginal hysterectomy. Web: www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/recovering-well/vaginal-hysterectomy.pdf. Accessed October 2020. 

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 >

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"I am healthier and fitter than I was before the diagnosis, and I have a 'can-do' mentality."
Read Annie's story
Date last updated: 
04 Nov 2020
Date due for review: 
01 Nov 2023
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