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cervical cancer patient discussing side effects

Different types of cervical cancer treatment can produce different side effects. For instance, chemotherapy can damage cells in the hair follicles and stomach, leading to hair loss and nausea, while radiation therapy can damage cells in the vagina, leading to vaginal pain and dryness.

That said, every patient’s experience is different. Some women experience very few side effects during cervical cancer treatment, while others face more substantial complications. To make the process as comfortable as possible, it’s helpful to work with a supportive care provider who can help manage any side effects that might develop.

Managing the side effects of chemotherapy

The most common side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Mouth sores
  • An increased likelihood of bruising and infection

Anti-nausea medications are commonly used to help prevent vomiting during cervical cancer treatment. Steroids can be used to address a loss of appetite and blood transfusions can be used to reduce the likelihood of infection and bleeding. Over-the-counter oral medications can also make mouth sores less painful.

Managing the side effects of radiation therapy

The most common side effects of radiation therapy are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Skin irritation
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • An increased need to urinate
  • Vaginal pain
  • Irregular menstruation or early menopause
  • An increased likelihood of bruising and infection

As is the case with chemotherapy, many of the side effects of radiation therapy can be managed through medications. Patients may also be instructed to wear loose, nonrestrictive clothing and use medicated lotions to help alleviate skin irritation. Vaginal pain usually goes away a few weeks after treatment is complete, but patients can use lubricants and temporarily avoid intercourse until the discomfort subsides.

Managing the side effects of surgery

After surgery for cervical cancer, some women experience pain, cramping and difficult urination and bowel movements. Medications can be provided for the pain and cramping, and a catheter may be used to drain the bladder for a few days after surgery. Patients will also need to limit their activities for several weeks to allow for full healing at the surgical site.

If a patient’s uterus is removed along with her cervix, she will no longer have menstrual periods or be able to become pregnant. However, there are several fertility-preserving surgeries that may be appropriate, as well as several other options for women who would like to have children after treatment.

Medically reviewed by Hye Sook Chon, MD, gynecologic oncologist

At Moffitt Cancer Center, women who are preparing to have cervical cancer treatment not only have access to highly experienced gynecological oncologists, but also to supportive care providers and reproductive specialists. This collaborative team helps each patient make the best decisions for her and her family’s unique needs. To request a visit with Moffitt’s gynecological clinic, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. Virtual visits appointments are available, however, in most cases, a complete exam and evaluation in person will be needed to decide the best treatment.