If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, chemotherapy may be part of your treatment plan. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel to the tumor in order to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy also kills normal cells, though. The advantage is that the cancer cells are more sensitive to the drugs being used.
Chemotherapy may be given either alone or along with radiation therapy. When given alone, it is given in a higher dose designed to kill off cancer cells. When given along with radiation therapy, it is delivered at a lower dose and is designed to make the cancer more sensitive to the radiation.
A wide variety of chemotherapy drugs may be used, such as:
Chemotherapy is usually given by vein, but some forms can be given by mouth. Your oncologist will tell you how many cycles or courses of chemotherapy are best for you. Usually there are between 4-6 cycles of chemotherapy given when the chemotherapy is delivered on its own, and up to 10 cycles of chemotherapy when the drugs are given along with the radiation therapy.
The side effects and amount of time required in the doctor’s office depend on the type of chemotherapy you receive, as well as how many cycles you receive and how often. The most common side effects are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Hair loss
- Increased frequency and urgency of bowel and bladder function
- Bleeding problems
- Soreness of mouth and gums
When chemotherapy is given at a lower dose, these side effects are less common. But most people feel very fatigued. A variety of drugs is available to manage side effects, including nausea and fatigue that results from anemia.
Long-term side effects may also occur. The chemotherapy drug adriamycin has been associated with damage to the heart muscle. Some very rare cases of leukemia may also result from treatment with chemotherapy drugs.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 01/2014 -
- Update Date: 00/10/2014 -