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Chemotherapy for cervical cancer
Chemotherapy uses anticancer, or cytotoxic, drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat cervical cancer. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of chemotherapy. You may also receive other treatments.
Chemotherapy is given for different reasons. You may have chemotherapy:
- as the main treatment to destroy cancer cells in the body when you are first diagnosed or if cancer comes back, or recurs, after treatment
- to destroy cancer cells left behind after surgery and reduce the risk that the cancer will come back (called adjuvant chemotherapy)
- during the same time period as radiation therapy (called chemoradiation) to improve the effectiveness of radiation therapy and to lower the risk that cancer will come back
- to shrink a tumour before other treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy (called neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
- to relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced cervical cancer (called palliative chemotherapy)
Chemotherapy is usually a systemic therapy. This means that the drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach and destroy cancer cells all over the body, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour in the cervix.
Chemotherapy drugs commonly used for cervical cancer
The most common chemotherapy drugs used to treat cervical cancer are:
- cisplatin (Platinol AQ)
- carboplatin (Paraplatin, Paraplatin AQ)
- paclitaxel (Taxol)
- topotecan (Hycamtin)
- gemcitabine (Gemzar)
- 5-fluorouracil (Adrucil, 5-FU)
- ifosfamide (Ifex)
- docetaxel (Taxotere)
- irinotecan (Camptosar)
- mitomycin (Mutamycin)
- vinorelbine (Navelbine)
- pemetrexed (Alimta)
- capecitabine (Xeloda)
- epirubicin (Pharmorubicin)
- hydroxyurea (Hydrea)
- pegylated liposomal doxorubicin (Caelyx)
The most common chemotherapy combinations used to treat cervical cancer are:
- cisplatin and 5-fluorouracil
- cisplatin and ifosfamide, with or without bleomycin (Blenoxane)
- cisplatin and paclitaxel, with or without ifosfamide
- cisplatin and gemcitabine
- cisplatin and mitomycin
- cisplatin and topotecan
- carboplatin and paclitaxel
- carboplatin and docetaxel
- cisplatin and vinorelbine
Radiation therapy is sometimes given during the same time period as chemotherapy for cervical cancer. This is called chemoradiation.
Cisplatin (Platinol AQ) is the most common type of chemotherapy drug used in chemoradiation for cervical cancer. It is given with external beam radiation therapy. Cisplatin may act as a radiosensitizer, which means it allows the radiation to work better. Chemotherapy is usually given once a week while a woman has radiation therapy.
Information about specific cancer drugs
Details on specific drugs change quite regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.
Questions to ask about chemotherapy
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.