Cervical Cancer

Chemotherapy for cervical cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is not often used alone to treat cervical cancer but is being used more frequently in combination with radiotherapy (chemoradiation). Several clinical trials have shown that giving cisplatin (a type of chemotherapy drug) at intervals during radiotherapy can improve effectiveness in destroying cancer cells, reduce the risk of the cancer returning and increase the number of women who are cured.

Sometimes chemotherapy drugs are also given as part of a clinical trial to find out which other drugs or comvination of drugs may help, or as palliative care (to keep up a good quality of life and to prolong life for as long as possible when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body).

Chemotherapy can cause side effects, which varies according to the type of drug used, the amount given and individual reactions. Some people have few side effects, while others experience a number of them. Many of these can be controlled with medication.

We interviewed two women who had chemotherapy (using cisplatin) once a week in combination with radiotherapy. One of them describes her experience.

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Chemotherapy in combination with radiotherapy is likely to cause greater side effects than chemotherapy or radiotherapy alone. Some side effects of cisplatin are nausea and vomiting, increased risk of infection, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, mild effects to the kidneys, ringing in the ears, taste changes, loss of appetite and diarrhoea.

Both women experienced some temporary side effects. Extreme tiredness and lethargy was common. Neither of the women lost their hair.

One woman's blood count became very low and she was admitted to hospital for a brief period. She did not lose her appetite and continued to eat well during chemotherapy. The other experienced a great deal of sickness but found that medication, ginger ale and mints helped to ease this side effect. Both found that some preferences for types of food, drink or particular smells altered during chemotherapy.

One woman found that she couldn't watch television, read or be in a brightly coloured room after a chemotherapy session. 

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Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated July 2017.


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