Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses highly toxic drugs to stop cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. cells from growing; this can involve killing the cells, or stopping them from dividing.

In the treatment of cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer. is mostly used with radiotherapy. This is called chemoradiotherapyTreatment of cancer with both chemotherapy and radiation therapy..

Chemotherapy may also be used to shrink the size of a tumour so that it is small enough to remove with surgery.

It is also used in the treatment of advanced cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. as a palliative treatment. A palliative treatment is one that does not attempt to cure a cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.. Instead it is designed to increase the length or quality of life of a person with an advanced cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

What drugs are used?

There are many different drugs that have been used to treat cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., and new drugs are being tested in clinical trials all the time.

The drug most often used at the moment is cisplatin, a platinum-based drug used to treat a variety of cancers. It works by damaging DNAThe building blocks of the genes in almost all living organisms - spelt out in full as deoxyribonucleic acid., the geneticRelating to the genes, the basic units of genetic material. instructions that cells need to reproduce.

Because cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. cells divide more rapidly than normal cells, the drug affects them more than it affects normal cells.

Cisplatin may be given on its own, or in combination with another drug, usually by injection or infusion (having a dripA means for the continuous injection into a vein.).

How are the drugs given?

Chemotherapy drugs are normally given by an injection or infusion through a fine tube (a dripA means for the continuous injection into a vein.) inserted into a vein in your arm.

If you are having chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer. on its own you will have a few days of treatment, then a three or four week break to allow your body to recover. This is called a treatment cycle. Your course of chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer. treatment will probably consist of six or more treatment cycles.

If you are having chemoradiotherapyTreatment of cancer with both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. you will probably have a lower dose of treatment once a week, to tie in with your radiotherapy.

Side-effects

Chemotherapy drugs are given to kill or damage cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. cells, but they usually also damage other cells within your body at the same time. This damage causes side-effects.

What side-effects you experience will depend on:

  • What drugs you are treated with
  • The dose you are given
  • Your particular reaction to the treatment.

Different people react to the same treatment in different ways. You might experience some of the following:

  • Fatigue - a general feeling of tiredness is quite common with chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer.
  • Nausea and vomiting - this is usually mild, but if it becomes a problem, your doctor may prescribe something to help
  • Loss of appetite - this is a common side-effect. It is sometimes improved by eating smaller amounts of food more often
  • Mouth sores - chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer. often damages cells inside your mouth, causing mouth sores and ulcers
  • Hair loss - some chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer. drugs damage cells in the roots of your hair. This makes your hair fall out. It will grow back after you finish treatment.

Chemotherapy can damage the cells in your bone marrowTissue within the bones where blood cells are formed. that produce bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. cells. Because of this you may also get:

  • Shortness of breath - caused by a lack of red bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. cells that carry oxygen from the lungs around your body
  • Bleeding or bruising easily - caused by a lack of platelets in the bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid.
  • More frequent infections - caused by a lack of white bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. cells.

If you are taking cisplatin, you may also experience:

  • Problems with hearing - particularly high-pitched sounds
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet - this is sometimes permanent
  • Changes in sense of taste
  • Kidney problems - the health of your kidneys will be checked during treatment and if it it starts to affect them, your treatment will probably be stopped.

You will probably only experience some of the above side-effects, and they should only happen during the time you are taking the chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer. drugs. Remember, your individual side-effects depend on what drugs you are treated with, the dose you are given, and your particular reaction to the treatment.