Chemotherapy for Cervical Cancer

Chemotherapy drug bag
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Chemotherapy is a common treatment for cervical cancer. It is often prescribed when radiation therapy or surgery would not be effective in treating the disease. This is common when cervical cancer has spread to other organs, as chemotherapy works throughout the body.

In cases of advanced cervical cancer, chemotherapy is often prescribed prior to radiation therapy treatments. Chemotherapy is given to shrink the tumor, which can make radiation therapy more effective.

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that utilizes anti-cancer drugs. These drugs are administered most commonly intravenously or by mouth, but other methods of administering chemotherapy are used also.

Chemotherapy works by acting on cancerous cells throughout the body, weakening them or destroying them. Unfortunately, many chemotherapy drugs cannot discern between healthy and cancerous cells, thus causing side effects like hair loss and stomach upset. The blood-producing cells are affected during treatment, increasing risk of infection, bleeding, and anemia.

Chemotherapy Drugs Used to Treat Cervical Cancer

There are several types of chemotherapy used to treat cervical cancer. Some are used alone; others are combined with another chemotherapy drug. A doctor develops a treatment plan according to the patient's type of cancer, stage of disease, and other health factors.

Common cervical cancer chemotherapy drugs include:

  • Carboplatin
  • Cisplatin
  • Paclitaxel
  • Fluorouracil, 5-FU
  • Topotecan
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Ifosfamide

Frequency and Duration

How long and how often a patient goes through chemotherapy depends on the treatment plan prescribed by the oncologist. The treatment plan varies from patient to patient and depends on the type and stage of cervical cancer, other treatments used and their effectiveness, and how well the patient is tolerating the treatment.

Some women undergo chemotherapy for weeks, while others may receive it for months. Chemotherapy is often given in variation with radiation therapy, such as daily radiation treatments, combined with weekly chemotherapy sessions.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

There are several questions a patient should ask their doctor about their chemotherapy treatment. You may want to print out a list to bring with you to your appointment so you don't forget to have them addressed.

  • What chemotherapy drug will I be receiving?
  • Why did you choose this drug over other types of chemotherapy drugs?
  • How long will I have to have chemotherapy?
  • How will I be given the drug? By IV, pill, injection?
  • What side effects do you expect me to have?
  • Are there any side effects that I need to watch out for that are serious? When should I call you? When should I go to the emergency room?
  • During chemotherapy sessions, can I bring a friend? Can I bring any electronic devices like a tablet, cell phone, electronic reader, portable DVD player, or music player? Is there WiFi available in the treatment room?
  • What over-the-counter medications can I take for pain or other minor conditions?
  • How will chemotherapy affect my daily life? How will I feel? Can I drive myself home after treatments?
  • Can I continue to work?
  • How have other patients in my situation responded to this type of chemotherapy?


"Cervical Cancer PDQ: Treatment Overview." 27 Feb 2007. National Cancer Institute

"Chemotherapy for Cervical Cancer," American Cancer Society, 02/26/2015

"Detailed Guide: How Is Cervical Cancer Treated." 04 Aug 2006. American Cancer Society