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Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill cervical cancer cells. Chemo is a type of systemic therapy because the drugs enter the bloodstream and can affect cells throughout the body. For treatment of cervical cancer, chemotherapy is generally combined with radiation therapy. For cancer that has spread to distant organs, chemotherapy may be used alone.

Anticancer drugs for cervical cancer are usually given through a vein. In most cases, treatment is given in an outpatient setting, at the provider’s office, or at home. Rarely, a woman needs to stay in the hospital during treatment.

The side effects of chemotherapy depend mainly on the type and amount of drugs given. Although these drugs can be very effective in terms of destroying cancer cells, they can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly.

Blood cells are one type of rapidly dividing cell that can be harmed by chemotherapy drugs. Different kinds of blood cells fight infection, help blood to clot, and carry oxygen to all parts of the body. When chemotherapy affects your blood cells, you are more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your healthcare team will monitor you for low levels of blood cells. If blood tests show low levels, your healthcare team may suggest medicines that can help your body make new blood cells.

Chemotherapy drugs can damage the roots of your hair, leading to hair loss. Your hair will grow back, although it may be somewhat different in terms of color and texture.

Chemotherapy drugs can damage the cells that line the digestive tract, causing poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Ask your healthcare team about medicines that help with these problems.