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Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. There are several chemotherapy drugs that can be used to treat cervical cancer. The most common of these is cisplatin, which may be given with other chemotherapy drugs. The drugs are usually given intravenously (by injection into a vein).
Chemotherapy is not usually given as the primary treatment for cervical cancer, but it may sometimes be used before surgery or radiotherapy to shrink the cancer and to make these treatments more effective. If it is given this way it is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy may also be given alone for women whose cancer has become advanced or if the cancer has returned after radiotherapy. In this situation, your oncology team will plan the best form of treatment for you according to your current diagnosis and it will be highly individual.
Types of chemotherapy that may be used in the treatment of cervical cancer include cisplatin, topotecan, carboplatin and paclitaxel (taxol). These are used to try to shrink and control the disease, to relieve symptoms, and to prolong a good quality of life. For women with advanced disease, a new biological drug called bevacizumab (Avastin) is sometimes added to their chemotherapy to try and increase its effectiveness. You can find more information on Avastin on our information page. It is always helpful to discuss this type of chemotherapy and its side effects with your consultant.
Robyn discusses her fears about chemotherapy and how difficult it was to take in information:
‘Chemotherapy was a terrifying word. First question, I have lots of hair, am I going to loose my hair? That was the only thing that I actually remember asking or hearing the answer to.’