Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. These drugs disrupt the way cancer cells grow and divide, but they also affect normal cells.
You may have chemotherapy to treat cervical cancer:
- with radiotherapy as your main treatment – this is called chemoradiation
- after surgery and with radiotherapy (chemoradiation) if there is a high risk of the cancer coming back
- if the cancer comes back after treatment
- if the cancer spreads to other parts of your body.
You may have chemotherapy in the chemotherapy day unit or on the ward. The drugs are usually given into a vein (intravenously).
You will usually have chemotherapy through a small tube (cannula) in your hand or arm.
A number of different drugs may be used to treat cervical cancer. Your doctor will explain to you which drugs are best for you. You may be given one chemotherapy drug or two or more in combination. Drugs that may be used include:
- 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)
- doxorubicin or liposomal doxorubicin
Chemotherapy may cause side effects. Many of these can be well controlled with medicines and usually go away when treatment finishes. Your doctor or nurse will tell you more about what to expect. Always tell them about any side effects you have, as there are usually ways they can help.
It is not advisable to become pregnant while having chemotherapy, as the drugs may harm the unborn baby. It is important to use effective contraception during your treatment and for some time afterwards. Your doctors can advise you about this.
Use condoms if you have sex within the first 48 hours after chemotherapy. This is to protect your partner from any of the drug that may be in vaginal fluid.
Small amounts of chemotherapy, or other drugs, can get into your body fluids. This includes fluid made in the vagina. To protect any partners, your cancer doctor may advise that for a few days after certain drugs you use:
- a condom for vaginal sex
- a condom (or a latex barrier such as a dental dam) for oral sex.