Chemotherapy is a common treatment option for people who have received a diagnosis of cervical cancer. It’s typically given in combination with radiation therapy in a treatment known as chemoradiation.

In the treatment of cervical cancer, chemotherapy helps radiation therapy work better. Because it travels throughout your body, chemotherapy helps treat cancer that has spread beyond your cervix to other organs and tissues.

But not everyone with cervical cancer will need chemotherapy. In very early stages, cervical cancer can be treated surgically.

A doctor or healthcare professional will determine the best treatment option for you based on the stage of your cancer. Whether chemo is right for you will depend on other factors too, such as your age and overall health.

Keep reading to learn more about chemotherapy for cervical cancer, including when it’s used and how it’s administered.

Depending on the stage, cervical cancer is usually treated with some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

According to the American Cancer Society, chemoradiation is the standard treatment for most stages of cervical cancer.

Chemotherapy medications work by attacking cancer cells and preventing them from replicating. Because chemo drugs enter your bloodstream, they help fight cancer throughout your body. These medications also affect healthy cells though, which is what leads to the infamous side effects.

To help lower the severity of side effects, doctors often prescribe a lower dose of chemotherapy to go along with radiation treatment.

Whether or not your medical team recommends chemotherapy largely depends on how advanced your cancer is. Other factors such as your age and overall health may also determine whether a doctor recommends chemotherapy or at what dose they recommend it.

The most common staging system for cervical cancer is named after the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology (FIGO).

This system stages cervical cancer from stage 0 to stage 4, depending on how far it’s spread. Doctors use this staging system to decide how to best treat cervical cancer. Some stages are subdivided further into more specific categories.

Here’s a look at how the stages are broken down and at which stages chemotherapy may be recommended. Other treatments are also used at each stage, which we’ll go over later.

StageDescriptionChemotherapy recommended
stage 0Very early stage cancer that’s confined to the surface of your
stage 1(A)The cancer is still small and can only be seen with a microscope.sometimes
stage 1(B) The cancer has spread deeper than 0.2 inches but is still limited to your cervix.usually
stage 2(A)The cancer has spread beyond your cervix and uterus but not into the next layer of tissue called the parametria.yes
stage 2(B)The cancer has spread past your cervix and uterus and into the parametria.yes
stage 3The cancer has spread to your lower vagina or pelvic walls. It may be blocking your ureters and causing kidney problems.yes
stage 4(A)The cancer has spread to your bladder or rectum or out of your pelvis.yes
stage 4(B)The cancer has spread to distant organs such as distant lymph nodes, bones, or your lungs.usually

Learn more about cervical cancer staging here.

Chemoradiation is a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It’s often used as the primary treatment for cervical cancer.

When given together, chemotherapy makes radiation treatments more effective.

Two types of radiation therapy are used to treat cervical cancer: internal radiation and external beam radiation.

Internal radiation therapy

Internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy, involves putting a source of radiation near the cancer inside of your body.

Intracavitary brachytherapy is the most common type used to treat cervical cancer. It involves putting the source of radiation into your vagina. It’s usually used in addition to external beam radiation therapy and is rarely used alone.

External beam radiation therapy

External beam radiation relies on a machine to aim high doses of x-rays toward your cancer. Each radiation session usually only takes a few minutes. When combined with chemotherapy, external beam radiation is usually administered 5 days a week for about 5 weeks.

Chemotherapy drugs are typically administered through an intravenous (IV) line at a doctor’s office, hospital, or infusion center. Oral chemotherapy drugs are used to treat some types of cancer, but chemotherapy used to treat cervical cancer is typically given through an IV line.

They can be given as a single injection over a few minutes or an infusion over a longer period of time.

Sometimes drugs are administered through a larger IV line called a central venous catheter, or central line. To place a central line, doctors insert a long narrow tube into a vein in your chest or upper arm. Unlike a typical IV line that needs to be changed every few days, a central line can remain in place for weeks or months at a time.

If a doctor places a central line, it may remain in place throughout the duration of your chemotherapy protocol.

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Chemotherapy drugs are administered in cycles followed by recovery periods. Most cycles last 1 to 3 weeks. After a rest period, the cycle begins again.

Chemo cycles vary depending on the drug that’s being administered. Doses may be administered every few weeks, weekly, or several times per week.

When chemotherapy is administered with radiation therapy, common drug choices include:

  • cisplatin or carboplatin, administered weekly through an IV line
  • cisplatin and 5-fluorouracil, given every 3 weeks

When cancer has spread or returned after treatment, treatment may include some combination of the following chemotherapy drugs:

  • cisplatin
  • carboplatin
  • paclitaxel
  • topotecan

Chemotherapy drugs can damage healthy cells. It’s particularly hard on cells that replicate quickly, such as skin cells, hair follicle cells, and cells inside your digestive tract. When these cells are damaged, you can experience side effects.

Most side effects are temporary and go away shortly after your treatment stops. Chemotherapy side effects commonly include:

Some side effects can last a long time or be permeant. They may include:

Radiation therapy, surgery, and targeted therapies are also used to treat cervical cancer.

Some of the surgical techniques used to treat cervical cancer include:

  • Total hysterectomy: A total hysterectomy is the total removal of your uterus and cervix.
  • Partial hysterectomy: A partial hysterectomy is the removal of your uterus. Your cervix may be left intact.
  • Radical trachelectomy: A radical trachelectomy is the removal of your cervix, nearby tissues, the upper part of your vagina, and nearby lymph nodes.
  • Radical hysterectomy: A radical hysterectomy involves the removal of your uterus, pelvic ligaments, fallopian tubes, part of your vagina, nearby lymph nodes, and sometimes your ovaries.
  • Conization: Conization is surgery to remove small cone-shaped pieces of abnormal tissue using a scalpel or heat and electricity.

Here’s a look at some typical treatment options for cervical cancer by stage:

stage 0
(carcinoma in situ)


internal radiation therapy
stage 1Atotal hysterectomy

removal of lymph nodes and modified radical hysterectomy


internal radiation therapy

radical trachelectomy
stages 1B and 2Achemotherapy and surgery

radiation therapy with chemotherapy

radical hysterectomy and pelvic lymph node removal with or without radiation and chemotherapy

radical trachelectomy

radiation therapy
stages 2B, 3, and 4Aradiation therapy with chemotherapy

surgery to remove lymph nodes and radiation with or without chemotherapy
internal radiation therapy

a clinical trial of chemotherapy followed by surgery

a clinical trial of chemotherapy and radiation therapy followed by another round of chemotherapy
stage 4Bradiation therapy to improve quality of life in incurable cancer

chemotherapy and targeted therapy

chemotherapy to improve quality of life in incurable cancer
a clinical trial with new drugs

A medical team will help you determine the best treatment options for you. They may also be able to recommend clinical trials that you’re eligible for that offer new and novel treatments.

If clinical trials find that new treatments are more effective than current standard treatments, they become the new standard treatments.

Coping with a cervical cancer diagnosis can be incredibly difficult, but there are many free resources available to help you deal with these challenges. Here are a few resources you may find helpful:

Cervical cancer is typically treated with some combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The best treatment option for you will depend on the stage of your cancer, as well as other factors such as your age and overall health. Chemoradiation, a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, is the standard treatment for several stages of cervical cancer. The chemotherapy drugs help make the radiation more effective.