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Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Usually the drugs are given into a vein or by mouth. Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they spread throughout the body.

Chemo can cause side effects. These side effects will depend on the type of drugs given, the amount taken, and how long treatment lasts. Side effects could include these:

  • Upset stomach (nausea) and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Short-term hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Low red blood cell counts (anemia), which sometimes needs to be treated with transfusion
  • Low white blood cell counts, which can increase the risk of serious infection
  • Low platelet counts, which can increase the risk of serious bleeding
  • Menstrual changes, such as periods stopping for a time

These side effects get better when treatment is over.

Chemo can also lead to early change of life (menopause) and loss of ability to become pregnant (infertility).

If you have problems with side effects, talk with your doctor or nurse, as there are often ways to help. For instance, drugs given with chemo can reduce or even prevent nausea and vomiting. Your health care team will watch for side effects and can give you medicines to help you feel better.


For some stages of cervical cancer, chemo is given with the radiation to help the radiation work better. When chemotherapy and radiation therapy are given together, it is called concurrent chemoradiation. Giving chemo with radiation can improve the patient’s chance for survival, but giving them together also tends to have worse side effects.

More details about the use of chemo to treat cervical cancer can be found in our document Cervical Cancer. Our document A Guide to Chemotherapy has information about dealing with some of the side effects of chemo.

Last Medical Review: 10/15/2014
Last Revised: 01/29/2016